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The Christmases They Are A Changing

Sometimes Christmas is about letting go. Sometimes it is about finding new traditions amidst the strewn memories at our feet. Sometimes the changes are forced on us. Sometimes we seek them and sometimes they simply seek us.   The decorating on my part has been sorely lacking this year. What was I waiting for? What was I running from? I was outdoor Christmas lights ambivalent this year, a task fallen to my younger more mechanically inclined son since his father moved away in the divorce a few years ago. My past two years of badgering him to get the lights done as if his continuing this tradition would somehow lessen their Christmas pain of Christmas pasts. This year I said not a word. It did not matter to me if it got done or not. I could simply join the rest of the lightless homes on our street. And there are many. I left it totally up to his 18 year old self. He did the backyard first as it is his favorite. He added a few new things to make it his own. His Dad arrived early this year and so he scrambled the next night to get it done, a subtle sign to show he’s doing fine. Or just the usual procrastination that plagues teenagers, the olders and everyone in between it seems. I was glad I let those lights spring from his desire and not from some demented nagging on my part to get them up. I was glad he chose the beauty of Christmas lights and all that shines for him and us.

The tree is still not up this year. It’s another one of those past traditions that I seem to find the easiest morsel of resistance in and hang on to it with a death grip. It’s the 19th and Christmas is but a few days away. Maybe I simply don’t care for my newfound parent of young adult experience of going to the Christmas tree lot alone. I did it for several years now and this new tradition gets no merrier with age. The decorations are another thing to meddle with my Christmas ambiguity. It’s taken me weeks to complete the chore that once took a day or so to do. Whether it’s the physical aches and pains of my older self or the emotional aches and pains of my younger self, it is taking my mind a lot of time to wrap itself around the task. I had this one decoration, a fake little snow covered tree on a board with a tiny little house in the woods and deer and birds for decorations. It was kept on a little table in the dining/den as the main tree sits in the living room. When I took it out of the box the other day, it broke into three pieces.   That simple act of forced decoration alteration made me happy. It was as if this gave me permission to decorate in any new way I pleased this year without the rigid submission of keeping things in tact in a way they no longer were. It was fresh holiday air flowing in that room at that moment. No more thought and agonizing as to what must stay where to continue something that no longer exists. I no longer ran from it but welcomed it with open arms.
Christmas traditions are often the gateways for transitions in one’s life.   We mark the passing of the torch from one generation to another when the first holiday arrives where an offspring takes over the hosting duties from the parent. This is often not something a mother welcomes at first.   How often I had heard this phrase, from mother and no doubt uttered by countless mothers across the continents handing off that reluctant baton: “I ask only one thing of my kids…” and I can complete that sentence so easily… “that they spend Christmas at my house.   I honored it for many years as best I could and how I wish she were still here so I could honor it some more. But I was not the sibling to who this transitory Christmas day dinner belonged. My mother acquiesced when the time came, albeit reluctantly at first. I was the sibling that lived far away so I simply went where time and transition dictated.  At first I, too, resisted the idea of a Christmas not at the familial house, but sometimes logistics and grandkids must rule the day.  It turns out fine in the end. They always do these new traditions that marching time turns out for us. We make new memories and new Christmas customs that carry us through until the next event or circumstance forces us to change again.

I, myself, welcome the change this year. A peaceful truce from the damage of divorce a few years ago has made their father join us again for the holidays here. I put up my Christmas decorations in places they have never been before and in an order not memorized from Christmas pasts. A visit from my in-laws after many years adds another new dimension to the day and I return to decorating the living room that I ignored the past two years in either deference or defiance of that divorce. I like the feeling of newness this year. I no longer feel afraid of leaving a few old traditions and decorations behind. I can look back now at all those Christmases with fondness and not longing for a time no longer here. I can mix my traditions old and new together now without regret or regard to maintaining the illusion of things long gone.

The theme of my Christmas home for now is adult children with no significant others and no small children to add that Christmas sparkle and twinkle as only a child on Christmas morning can. No matter how curmudgeonly kids get, on Christmas morning they are magic itself.   They come with their own age based transitions though. My two sons are four and a half years apart. A span like that renders Christmas mornings from both of them tugging you awake at 6am to open presents to one pre-teen wanting to sleep till noon and the other impatiently waiting for his brother to awake. And then, of course, there is the universal change from believing in Santa to unbeliever. I honestly do not remember how my kids discovered there was no Santa Clause. I surely did not tell them, as I would have them believe to this very day. Perhaps they peeked when sleep wouldn’t come and saw us and their Grandma and aunts and uncles hauling the loot under the tree at midnight. I was a quantity not quality Christmas present mother. I will admit I wrapped a flashlight or two just to have more presents to open. I have no real recollection of Christmas in my own youth. We were five siblings to hardworking parents who were not showered with tons of gifts. Sometimes we give our children the things we think we wanted as children ourselves. My most memorable gift was the Barbie dollhouse my younger sister managed to break, in envy or in error, while I attended Christmas Mass with my mother.   Some events slip by and some set the tone for many years.

The day will come when my offspring will have to choose Christmas homes to spend their holidays at and I no doubt will find myself saying … I ask only one thing of my kids.   Perhaps I will be the one to enjoy the fruits of that request and perhaps not. But wherever future Christmases take me, I know that I can stir the old traditions in with the new and conjure up a brand new transition to the holiday at hand as long as I am with my sons and family somewhere.   To all those in transition this year, from fate or simply the ticking of time, enjoy your Christmas. May fortune smile upon you and may this Christmas be only one of many to come.   Merry Christmas to all and thank you for reading.

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