“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
I hummed along to the music, but felt nothing. I was working at Toys R ‘Us as a seasonal employee and while I enjoyed seeing the excited faces of those bustling in for the sake of Christmas shopping, I was constantly being reminded of how much the holidays had changed for me. No longer was I a kid at home getting ready for Santa’s visit, but instead I was working two jobs while attending school full-time. My list to Santa wasn’t full of toys, but bills and loans that I had to pay. My brother was incarcerated and the overall mental and physical health of my family was declining; everyone was in survival mode. I knew we were broken, stifling any seasonal magic that might have lingered.
Christmas was getting difficult, and as an adult, it was only getting darker. That Christmas morning, I woke up alone. The silence was deafening – it was mocking me. I sat near the tree and cried to myself. It was the beginning of my own tradition that repeated itself for several years and so, I thought, this is Christmas. Bah humbug, right?
My Christmas mornings used to be bright and cheerful, full of happiness and love that drifted through the air for the entire month of December. We’d wake up screaming and laughing because we knew Santa had visited. One of my brothers would make a pot of coffee for our parents, but it always my job to wake them up. My dad never wanted to. I’d shake, pull, and push, growing impatient at his slow pace. When the smell of coffee finally reached him, he’d slowly remove himself from bed and sit on the couch, coffee cup in hand.
In the corner of the living room was our tree and under our tree were mountains of gifts that seemed to reach the top of the ceiling. We’d all sit on the ground, dividing up the presents. It was amazing to see what Santa had done. We spent the whole day playing with each other and our new toys; I truly felt that no one was as lucky as our family. Spending time with my brothers was what I enjoyed the most and then it seemed that one day, it just stopped.
My husband never quite understood my sadness. He never celebrated Christmas growing up and only started once we got married. I’ve often found myself envying it. The darkness of Christmas wasn’t there to haunt him, offering empty feelings and loneliness. He would never have the curse of carrying the heaviness of Christmas past. The curse of Christmas past is more than visits from Santa; the curse is looking around to see that the people you cherished the most in those memories are no longer there.
On the drive home the other night, we passed through the town I grew up in. I could feel the tears running down my face and made no effort to dry them. I let them fall silently, not wanting to clue in my husband who was driving. We drove past the Christmas lights in town and I was struck with feelings of grief and reminiscence. The feelings couldn’t stop and I didn’t want them to. I wanted to remember. I wanted to feel the sting. I let the emotion come out, until finally it started to escape from my lips. My husband simply extended his hand to grab mine.
This year will not be like the other Christmases I have known. Christmas Eve, hosted by my aunt, were lively, fun, and warm. Christmas Eve had a joy free of the constraints of what I was dealing with for Christmas morning; we knew we would always have each other for that one night. Christmas Eve in 2018 was the last normal Christmas Eve celebration we had. In the fall of 2019, my grandmother passed away and my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. We held off on festivities, not knowing it would be her last. This year, she’s gone and although we want to get together to honor her memory, COVID-19 is keeping us apart.
Christmas will continue to change and I will continue to do my best to embrace it. My daughter has already brought such a joy back into the holidays that I am beginning to look forward to Christmas morning again. One day, she’ll be creating her own traditions and memories, so for now I will take in each moment and bask in Christmas present before it becomes Christmas past.