Christmas glows quietly this year

Andrea and me, Christmas 2014 4My tree is perhaps the prettiest it’s ever been, a perfect little Fraser fir plucked off the corner lot across from Meijer. It glows quietly this morning, its white and blue lights winking where Andrea thoughtfully draped them. My beloved Jumping Jack hangs center stage. Behind him Mickey Mouse dozes dreamily, as he has every year since Emily gave him to me, while to his left Peter Pan flies over London, also compliments of Emily. She keeps me supplied with childhood whimsy.
Under the tree, Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus keep up their Nativity tableau flanked by wise men, a shepherd and a couple of crouching animals. My cat Abbey knocks them over occasionally. Mom and Dad had a Nativity scene when I was a kid, and so I have one now.
This tree and the ceramic Holy Family pretty much stand in for Christmas at my house this year, along with a clutter of cards on the window sill guarded vigilantly by nutcrackers. Just one present rests under the tree, a plaid package sent along by my foster sister, Margie. It is a quiet, stripped-down kind of yule, and I am fine with it.
But when I was a child Christmas was a riot of excitement. I so looked forward to it, for weeks and weeks. Big family celebrations, driving into Detroit to the grandparents, singing carols on the way. Cousins all around. Smell of tangerines and Scotch pine. Christmas Eve full of music and delicious food, Christmas morning wonderful beyond measure.
When Emily and Max were children, much the same. My heart leaped with the widening of their eyes. Their bare feet on the carpet tickled my soul. Charlie Brown and I delighted in their every squeal of joy as the wrapping flew around the room.
Now is a different season of life. Emily and Max are 34 and 27 in the blink of an eye, with their own lives. No little ones underfoot at the moment. Ten years ago my marriage unraveled in a spectacularly ugly way. Thank God for Andrea.
Outside it’s been a damp and gray Advent, barely relieved by wisps of snow, going on a month now. The sun rarely shows himself. The neighbors bravely dress their homes in light against the unremitting darkness. It’s been a long December, as Counting Crows sang, “and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”
Maybe. However, I can’t bear to watch the news.
Karin Bergquist remarked upon the unbearableness of news last Saturday, in a concert at Calvin College. She and her husband Linford Detweiler sing as Over the Rhine. Theirs is an unusual variety of Christmas music, a blend of melancholy and lilting sweetness, acknowledging the sadness as well as the wonder of the season. Linford dubbed it a new genre, “reality Christmas.”
“Whatever we’ve lost, I think we’re gonna let it go,” they sang. “Let it fall, like snow.”
Life has largely become a process of letting go of losses – of family as it was, of childhood and, increasingly, of loved ones. The only way through it is to accept the losses, let them hollow out a certain hurting place in my heart, and then to keep my heart open so that new joys, friends and family can enter. And to cherish without regret the childhood I had, with all of us gathered around Mom at the piano and singing carols.
“Darling, Christmas is coming,” Over the Rhine sing. “Do you believe in angels singing?”
I do. I’ve heard them, singing around the piano.

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4 Responses to Christmas glows quietly this year

  1. So very beautiful, heartfelt and touching..Thank you

  2. Well-stated, Charley. Christmas is such a blend of emotions after you’ve lived beyond the era of believing in Sata Claus. You’ve captured how bittersweet it can be for some. I believe in angels too. Enjoy your holiday!

    • soulmailing says:

      Thank you Carol. It was good to see your sister yesterday, but bittersweet as well. I hope you all are able to enjoy the blessing of this Christmas, as a family, despite the difficulty. Be of good cheer!

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