I had decided that Christmas was canceled this year. I’m not the type to wallow and have a pity party to last through the holidays, but celebrating Christmas with our newly fractured family was more than I could wrap my mind around. We were just beginning to establish traditions with our kids. Last year, we hosted a ham and waffle breakfast open house and welcomed over fifty friends and family. We hit up after-Christmas sales to purchase all the non-perishables so we could host it again this year. We had the date planned, I requested the time off work six months prior, and the day after the open house, we were going to fly to Texas for the whole week of Christmas to be with Simon’s family.
With Simon’s work schedule, we would usually celebrate Christmas a few days before or after the actual holiday. I have spent three Christmases with him on the train while he was working. Last year, the train ended up in San Diego on Christmas night. We were starving and walked nearly two miles to find somewhere that was open. Denny’s it was. We laughed as we ordered creatively named “food” off the promotional The Hobbit menu. Simon munched on Smaug’s Fire Burger while I choked down something resembling a salad. But we also reflected on how richly we had been blessed. That we were warm and safe on Christmas. That we were together. That we had friends and family who support us. That we have three great kids. We strolled back to his hotel arm in arm through deserted streets with twinkling lights, not knowing what the future held.
Then summer came. And our world changed. And I needed Christmas to go away.
My mom felt the same way. She was going to cancel Christmas at her house, too. No trees, no stockings, no decorations. We would still buy presents for the kids and exchange names among the adults. We booked a nice hotel near the beach for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Escaping to a heated spa, room service, and new surroundings was exactly what we needed. We announced our plans to the rest of the family and continued our strategy of avoidance and denial.
I had ordered a fresh pine wreath through my son’s boy scout troop fundraiser and hung it on our front door. That was my limit. That was my compromise. The children saw it and squealed with delight. “IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME!” Good, I thought. They’ll settle with mediocrity like I did. Not that Christmas decor automatically makes the season more meaningful, but it’s something our family has always done as we lead up to the celebration of our Savior’s birth.
But something started stirring in both Mom and I about a week ago. Thanksgiving activities winded down. The air became crisper. My son “graduated” from therapy. I have been provided more opportunities to share my story of loss and the promise of salvation to those who seek Him. Joy was becoming more abundant and we weren’t even looking for it. And while the loss of Simon is still felt every day in expected and unexpected ways, love was still brimming in our hearts and hope was still stirring in our souls.
Two days ago, Mom and I both caved. We felt it. We knew it. Christmas had to be reinstated. Our grief shouldn’t dictate how others have to feel. Canceling Christmas may be the right choice for some grievers, but it was not for us. My little brother, who is not little at 6’4″, brought us an equally not little tree at 7’8″. The kids were ecstatic when I announced they could do all the decorations themselves. The ornaments are distributed unevenly and the whole look is a bit sparse, but it’s their precious handiwork.
Lastly, I cleared the mantle and set out a unique nativity scene we received from Simon’s mom last year that is porcelain origami. I’m not a fan of religious statues or any kind of shrine, but the scene that depicts Christ birth is deeply meaningful. Jesus came in human form as a helpless infant, lived a holy and blameless life, and died on the cross for all mankind. To cancel or ignore that fact defeats the reason that Christmas exists.
If you are canceling Christmas this year, reconsider. You don’t have to spend money or staple lights all over your roof. You definitely don’t have to eat a Smaug burger. Connect with those you love. Seek deeper meaning in this short life we’re living. Find joy in unexpected places. I am.