I was dreading the holidays this year. It's always a hard time for me, in general. Instead of sugarplums dancing around, my yuletime memories from childhood mostly include liquor-addled altercations. There was the time my stepdad yanked the Christmas tree down on top of me, and a particularly warm recollection of him holding a snowflake ornament up against my neck like a shuriken.
I still maintained some enthusiasm for the season, though, because my grandma made up for those terrible tidings by going ALL out. Her halls were decked like Martha-frickin Stewart every year, without fail. I could always escape to her mantles and pine trees, bow-lined packages and twinkling lights. She made traditional ham balls and John Wayne casserole, and she always insisted that we light candles at Christmas Eve service.
She died five years ago.
I didn't sour on Christmas immediately. It was a struggle, for sure, but I tried to maintain the spirit for my little sister. She was my half-sister, actually…though neither of us ever made the clarification. Even when confused strangers would ask why her eyes had an “Asian-ish” look to them and mine didn't, we'd gaze into each other's face, squint in apparent bewilderment, and shrug. We always got a good laugh out of that. It wasn't funny, though, after our mom and her dad got divorced and she was forced to split the holidays, shuffling between “his house” and “our house,” traumatizing the comfort zone we'd managed to find within each other. We limped along that way, placating our parents until the year Grandma died and we realized that we were adults now, and it was our responsibility to make this season our own.
She moved in with my husband Nate and I when we were expecting our fourth son, helping to care for the baby and for me after a high-risk pregnancy. She'd strap on a little carrier and bounce him when he was fussy, never complaining about the burden. He turned a year old in November last year, and I started feeling clearer after that initial postpartum fog.
I decided that the holidays were a perfect opportunity to pay my sister back. She took a job up in the Bay Area away from us, so she was “coming home” for Christmas. She told me how excited she was to return to our little farm instead of doing the mom-or-dad-house shuffle this time. We vowed to do Christmas our way. For once, I got REALLY EXCITED about all this. I'd reinvent the season for my little sister, and for myself! The kids and I hung lights. I wrapped all the things. We brought a Christmas tree home so early that it got kind of crispy the week before Santa came to visit and I insisted that we replace it with a fresher one. We took the boys to Walmart to buy oversized blow-up holiday figures. We put nativity scenes out and literally threw tinsel around until everything sparkled.
My sister came home, and it was epic. We did the eggnog. We made the cookies. We put UGG boots and scarves on. We tore open packages until there were bags stuffed full of wrapping paper. We went to Christmas service at our church and sang our hearts out. They don't do candlelight service there (sorry, Grandma) but it was amazing nonetheless. We drove up to see Grandpa and visited with our cousins. We smiled from ear-to-ear, and I contemplated how we'd manage to top this in future years.
She died in a brutal car accident 5 months ago.
I'm carrying unspeakable grief and trauma in my soul. The smell of pine needles at this point, frankly, pisses me off. On top of all that, right now, I'm limping through what I call “birthday season.” Nate and three of our sons each celebrate their birthdays the month before Christmas. The month after Christmas, in January, I celebrate my birthday. My birthday in particular is usually a joyous day. My little sister was born on my 6th birthday. Like Christmas, now it's come to be a day that I dread. This year, I abruptly found myself in the midst of planning celebrations and mourning my sister's absence from them. I emerged from the post-Halloween candy haze to find that the entire world was suddenly…painfully…Christmas-ized.
On November 1st, a friend came barreling at me with a holiday playlist. Her halls were decked with boughs of holly, I kid you not. There were tidings of joy being shoved down my throat and I was NOT feeling it. I snapped, a little. “What happened to Thanksgiving!?” I gaped. She balked and we both sulked and there was decidedly less rocking around the Christmas tree than she was anticipating.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one having this sort of encounter. Social media posts in favor or against the early enchantment started popping up. I refused to take sides in the pro-poinsettia or anti-artificial tree debate. I just sat, bemused and sad and wishing that we could fast-forward to February – if only for this year. And maybe next.
All I want for Christmas is a break while I sort it out.
I'm fairly confident that I will reinvent Christmas for myself once again. I may even put our tree up tomorrow. Nate suggested that. He says that the right path forward is to proceed like my friends and “celebrate my own way.” It makes sense. That's what I insisted I'd do before my sister died. I might do that. Or I might pout this year and reject all of it. Who knows? What I can say is that I will do my very best to respect other people's feelings in the process…which is kind of the whole point. I'll try not to rain on anyone else's cheerful parade. I just hope that they'll understand why I'm crying in a corner instead of grabbing party horns and joining in.
I hope while everyone else is eagerly watching Scrooge and The Grinch on TV, they'll actually take in those stories. Perhaps they'll realize that as joyous as the season is for most people, it hurts like hell for some of us.
Some of us – as hard as we may try – find the ‘most wonderful time of the year' to be a bitter pill to swallow.