The winter holidays have been my least favorite time of the year for as long as I can remember. As a child from a divorced home, the pressure of deciding where I'd spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was crushing. Either my mother and her family or my dad and his family would be disappointed, or so I felt. Even the seemingly easy task of telling the adults what I wanted for Christmas was enough to make me feel burdened with responsibility beyond my years. It was no one's fault. It was the nature of the way we have chosen to celebrate these holidays coupled with the way the cards fell for my parents. I guess it really couldn't be helped.
There was one Christmas though that I have a small but poignant memory that has kept me believing that Christmas can be more than intense stress, dealing with massive overspending and how it comes into my home, and sadness. I was maybe five years old. My parents were still married, but as all memories of this time when they were both occupying our little trailer, it was more as if they were shadows than real people and I was nearly alone to be as I would be. Our Christmas tree was up and lit. I still believed in Santa Claus and, this Christmas, I'd see him. I grabbed my pillow and a quilt off of my bed, my dad tucked me in, and I resolved to stay awake, camped under our tree all night. I remember how the tree smelled of warm plastic and how the colored lights shot tiny beams like stars when I got sleepy. I laid there thinking of how Santa must love me, and to meet him would be magic. Just magic. I didn't care what I got for Christmas. I've never been someone who wanted much in the way of stuff. My wishlist is pretty simple. I just cared that I saw this man, this grandpa, and felt his magic.
I woke up the next morning with the gray of a winter's light seeping in through the little window in our trailer's back door. I hadn't met Santa. Sleep was too precious a thing. There all around where I had slept were our Santa presents. He had been there working all around me as I slept, being careful that I didn't hear and stir.
It's that achingly sentimental memory that motivated what I wanted Christmas to be for my children when I became a mother. The focus on the material that made me so nervous that my stomach would be sick, the rush to be everywhere and buy the best present would be secondary to acknowledging the magic of the time and what variety of beauty that can be celebrated as Christmas. Traditions are hard to amend though. American Christmas has become barely more than a frenzy of excess and disappointment as it never quite plays out the way you had it pictured and resembles little of the Christian and Yuletide traditions that inspired the holiday at all.
As much as I wanted something different for my girls, it has too often been much of the same. Phone calls and endless conversations about what my girls want for Christmas. Me feeling like that little overwhelmed child who just wants people to smile and not feel slighted or out done. The girls get so much from family that my husband and I can't even begin to compete with quantity nor do we want to try, so I focus on quality and substance. Our little family trying to fit in visits over a period of a few days. Returning home with a car load of gifts and no place to put many of them. Experiences and conversations a blur. Exhaustion. Irritability, and weeks of recovery.
Christmases prior I tried to make change. I asked that certain toys not be bought. We've worked out a schedule of visits and stuck to it every year. We don't celebrate our own Christmas until we can be relaxed at home, even if that means that Santa visits us and the grandparents. At our home celebration we rest in the spiritual reasons for Christmas and Yule and read the stories. I've learned that I still would love to be home and have grandparents come and see us sometimes, but I know that isn't the season of our lives. I now know that it doesn't matter if you have preferences for gifts, children will get what the giver wants them to have. And, Christmas often equals hard feelings and stress as much as we try to stave it off.
This year, while I know I can't take it all away, I can make a conscious effort at affecting what I can. There are several things I'm doing this year to make the season one that brings a little more rest for me than discomfort.
1. I'm giving up scrolling my newsfeed in Facebook or making posts about my day for the entire length of Advent. I know giving up something is associated with Lent, but I'm striving to live an authentic life these days. I'm not making myself unseen and unheard in my Truth any longer. I'm living boldly in order to fully express the me that God made. What does that have to do with a Facebook newsfeed? In my feed on any given day, I am faced with racism, ugly politics, hate, bigotry, violence, and horror stories about suffering inflicted upon women and families by institutions and scared people. I'm triggered emotionally by what I see and it affects my well being and my ability to process the news on my own terms. It creates for me the sensation of fight or flight without anything to direct it toward. I see these posts from those I know or have known, and to be honest, it is heartbreaking. Being in that space can make it so easy to be paranoid and lose hope. I can refrain, clear my head, and return when ready. This season is for celebrating and acknowledging Truth, and I will accept nothing short of it.
2. I'm being honest about what happens to toys and excess material goods in our home. We donate them. All of us do it. We just took two boxes of toys to Goodwill in order to clear out what isn't used. Our cabin is teeny and I want it to be as beautiful and comfortable as possible. Lots of things clog up the energy. It is a work in progress. My girls have very honed interests. While something might be appealing to them for awhile in newness, they fully recognize what they truly hold as valuable. "For you may palm upon us new for old: All, as they say, that glitters, is not gold." -John Dryden
3. I'm volunteering to take on some cooking. I've always wanted to, and I love to cook. I love to watch people eat my food. So, my mother in law has asked that I help and I am so happy to!
4. I'm taking time for mindfulness and being right here - right now. My spiritual walk takes precedence over all extraneous things during this season of kindling the light within. It's not just a metaphor. It's action to take. I have goals.
5. I'm continuing the traditions that we've made as a nuclear family that bring home the purpose of this holiday for me and my family. For us, it is a time to celebrate a man who came to light the path and share with us the tools of salvation. Jesus was a spiritual hero - The Redeemer. All the pieces of Christmas are supporting roles to this beautiful piece of the spiritual puzzle... this includes Ole St. Nick.
As an adult, we can control what we do with our experiences in order to adjust the impact we feel from them. The question is always, how can we use what we know to express Truth, experience Truth tangibly, share Truth, and light the path of Truth for others? This question if taken on in a meaningful way can make massive difference in even the most difficult of times or challenges. There is always something there for us to claim or reclaim in Truth. Christmas is a season of warmth, love, reflection and togetherness. Any appearance that does not reflect that does not have to remain.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide