I sit here wondering and waiting. Wondering what words will come to express all my thoughts and feelings I have about the holidays. Wondering if it is too cliché to even write about them. Yet, I feel like they still hold a lot of power in my life. There are many emotions and feelings, especially when grief is present. There is joy and excitement. There is frustration and anxiety. There is pain and sadness. I think I am at a place in my life that I experience it all. It is definitely hard to be in this place trying to be aware and present with all of these conflicting emotions, but maybe that is the best place to be.
Christmas is magical. There is something about this season that brings so much excitement. A few nights ago, after dinner, I packed my two sons in the car. Our mission was to drive around to find the best Christmas lights! We first drove to our small city’s downtown. We marveled at the big tree shinning with lights and peeked into the windows of Santa’s small hut. Then we fell upon this house that was decorated all the way around it with just about anything you could imagine. It brought me great joy hearing my sons express their amazement of it all. I got to experience a little bit of this season through their eyes.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. It truly does feel magical with al the lights, parties, foods, presents, traditions, and so much more. However, even amongst all of the excitement, I know what it is like to experience sadness during this season. As a child, every Christmas Eve, my family and I would take candles to my dad’s grave. Everything was so merry, but yet there was this moment each Christmas that felt so dark. I remember often trudging through the snow or the cold, whipping wind up the hill to my dad’s grave. Even with the winter chill, there was a part of me that wanted to linger, as I would take this time to grieve my father. When I was very young sometimes I made a Christmas wish that my dad would come back, but as I grew older I simply imagined what this season would be like if he was still here with us. After this short moment, we would return to our Christmas festivities. It was sad and hard, but yet needed.
Then there was the Christmas season we found out my mom had cancer. That year was marked with confusion and wondering if this would be our last with her. The following year we struggled through the holidays without her. When I lost my mom I lost all sight of the Christmas joy I once knew. She was the one who created the traditions. She was the one who planned the menus and bought the presents. She was the one who was particular about the decorations being just so. We all tried to take over, but it still wasn’t the same. It felt exhausting trying to keep what we had. The ache of her missing presence was too much to bear. It felt more dark than bright.
As time has passed, the joy of Christmas has slowly returned for me. New traditions have been established. I get to experience the excitement of Christmas with my own kids and create memories for them. I am already excited to bake Christmas cookies with them, have Santa visit at a friend’s house, open presents, and travel to see family. There are still moments for me that I wish my parents were here. I still grieve what was and what could have been, but yet thankful for what is. I am learning there is space for both. There is room for merriness and sadness, bright and dark.
It is easy in our culture to believe that it has to be one or the other. Either your experience has to be a full-blown Hallmark Christmas movie, or you are completely alone in your depression during this season. Don’t hear me wrong. There is years that one may definitely outweigh the other. However, it is also ok to make room for both. Give yourself space to cry before the party. Make a new tradition that honors who or what you are grieving. Take time to process what is hard during this season. Find the people who can listen to you express all of your emotions over the holidays. Allow yourself to enjoy your favorite parts again.
One of my favorite Christmas phrases comes from the song “Oh Holy Night.” It states, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Christmas should be filled with thrill, joy, and hope! We are celebrating the birth of Jesus, but we can’t forget why he came in the first place. He came to save a weary world full of pain, struggle, and grief. I hold onto that truth. I allow myself to feel and experience both. I have learned that this is exactly the place we should be. When we are comfortable enough to make room for both, not only being present with our own pain but also recognize the pain around us, we experience the real thrill of this season. Darkness makes the brightness much more powerful. What are you grieving this Christmas? What traditions and people have you lost? I hope you take the space needed to acknowledge the answers to these questions.