Gosh, I can’t believe we’re here again. In the blink of an eye, we’re back in magical, hopeful times. Though many of us may get lost in the demands of the season, without a doubt, the holidays bring out the best in us. It shifts our focus on those we love – we want to give all we have, all we are – we want to celebrate our beliefs, bring joy to each other. No matter our intention, the holidays will feel different for each one of us. For some, it’s their only break from the daily grind. For others, life’s circumstances will not allow anything but a happy, ordinary day.
I’ve had 54 Christmases and I remember most of them. First with my parents, married at nineteen, two people who tried to make a happy life for me and my sisters. Until they were no longer happy with each other. As a child, growing up in large and somewhat fortunate family, the get-togethers we had were productions on their own. I was a child of divorced parents, but my grandparents on both sides always made sure we were surrounded, if not by love, then by the people who were supposed to love us. Uniformed maids and hired Santas and cooks who filled the table with a traditional banquet, noisy, giggly cousins, my grandfather sitting on a chair and handing out envelopes of money. I always thought I was so smart, lining up twice, hoping my grandfather would forget by the time he got to grandchild number 24.
As I grew older, the sounds of those Christmases began to fade a bit – slowly, I began to feel alone and lonely. The Christmases of my teenage years were filled with a melancholy I couldn’t shake. I didn’t belong anywhere, really. My parents were living their own lives, my grandparents were traveling, I had an aunt and uncle who took me in as one of their own. I spent the day with cousins of cousins I didn’t know. Or aunt and uncles, nieces and nephews of the guy I dated in high school and college. All these people. Still these weren’t my Christmases. They were occasions that felt like out of body experiences. I watched, I was there, but I really wasn’t.
And with having my own family came a silent vow to enjoy the holidays in silence, to get rid of all the noise and enjoy the time of quiet with the four people who changed my life forever. Since my oldest son was born twenty eight years ago, we’ve enjoyed Christmas eve alone, just the four of us, and then five (late breaking surprise ten years later), sitting around the tree, opening presents and celebrating our own Noche Buena (Christmas Eve dinner in Filipino tradition). Times like this aren’t guaranteed every year. Just three years ago, despite the love of my family and the success of my career, I was in such a difficult and dark place that everything I’d built around me as a safety net against loneliness, threw me back into those days of wanting more, needing something I couldn’t define, falling back into the hole of emptiness. It took me two years to come up for air – but when I did, I was a better person for it. It was during the holidays that I did the first dumbest thing ever, and it was during the holidays that I made peace with it too.
Through the years, through the holidays, memories of each year always come back to me. Some of them fill me with profound sadness, but never one of regret. I miss those who have left me throughout the years. My heart aches for those who are no longer with me. And I’ve made peace with those whom I’ve hurt and who have hurt me. All of them remind me that life is an ever changing journey, and that I’ve had lessons to learn, challenges to overcome and so much love and gratitude each year of my life.
For those who have everything, revel in the love around you during this season – sometimes, the only thing that’s free is what you can’t afford. And for those who aren’t as fortunate, I bet God has given you so many other gifts that money cannot buy. You will find it, I promise. You probably see it more clearly than the rest of us do. Because you only concern yourself with the simple joys that matter.
This isn’t a sad post.
It’s a post about having the courage to look back at the Christmases of your life because they have made you who you are. Every lonely moment, every happy event. Everything you’ve wished for each year – whether it be an electric can opener (circa 1990) or a Chanel Camera bag (circa now) – is your life’s milestone. Celebrate these times, use them to mark the moments in your life and look up to the heavens with gratitude for all that has happened, and for all that is yet to come.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours, with so much love.