This year, December ushered in a dim and bewildering Christmas season for me. My family members all had important new personal plans that barred me from celebrating Christmas day with any of them. No family at Christmas. They’d been there through life with me so often, so supportive. But this Christmas I wavered, forsaken. For the first time in my 70 years, I had not even been invited. Of course, I sincerely understand and accept that my west coast sister and her husband have every right to take a well-earned trip and my gulf coast brother and his wife needed to be present at the birth of their first grandchild. Of course. They have their needs too. It’s not all about me. Absolutely.
But, being a never-married single woman, having no family within 2000 miles, I was suddenly orphaned in the frigid, snowy Midwest. I felt trashed. The message rang out like a perverse Christmas carol: “You’re on your own again…fa la la. You’re independent…la la la. You’ll figure it out…ho ho ho.”
As I sat in church waiting for the early December Advent service to begin, I realized that this had become a Confusing Christmas. There was a big gaping chasm in my life that used to be experienced as Christmas with Family. Disoriented, I had been left wondering how to re-invent my own Christmas celebration at home. I especially did not want to be left out–isolated and feeling forlorn on Christmas day. That would have been awful.
So, with the coaching of good friends, I decided to re-invent the Christmas celebration I had always known. Looking back, we came up with a three-step process that I want to share with you in case you ever need to re-do your Christmas celebration. Here it is:
Be proactive. Tell everyone you know and like about your new Christmas quandary.
Immediately make plans to actively celebrate in old and new ways that include spreading the Christmas spirit by giving to others.
Wait and watch for a few Christmas miracles to happen.
Here’s how a new Christmas unfolded for me…
I began letting all my friends know that I would be in town for Christmas and that I’d love to get together. Many of them shared with me the joys and benefits of being surrounded by their large families of choice–close friends who are there to function as family when needed. They are the dear friends we choose to be members of our inner circle. My close friends and I all agree that “it takes a village” to support and love us in this life; and my buddies reached out. They turned themselves into my first ever, living “Christmas village!”
Christmas plans emerged. I wrote and sent more Christmas cards than I ever had in the past. We made flower arrangements for 22 friends and, donned with Santa hats, delivered them all over town. We attended Christmas concerts, a dinner, 2 luncheons. We also baked dozens of Christmas cookies and secretly left 4 dozen of them out for the young construction workers who, from dawn to dusk, were re-roofing our snow-laden high-peaked building in freezing December temperatures. They found the baked delights on the open tailgate of their pickup truck with a Christmas card thanking them for their hard work.
My friends and I shared lots of stop-by visits at my place to exchange gifts, converse over dinner and catch up. What a joy! While visiting, several of my “Christmas companions” confided that by necessity, they, too, were in the process of re-inventing their personal holiday celebration.
Sarah came over one day with gifts. We ordered pizza and watched Christmas in Connecticut. During the afternoon she confided that she too is struggling with how to re-invent her Christmas traditions. Her kids were gone for the first time this year. She is officially an empty-nester. As she begins to redesign her future Christmases, she has decided to minister to people around her who are the most downtrodden and marginalized in our society–the homeless, mentally lost, and ill. She has a special heart for people with serious disabilities.
Another super-close friend, Lily, came overnight for a gift exchange, dinner, and a movie. We watched It’s a Wonderful Life. She has confided that she and her husband had suffered and struggled with the thought of having no big bustling family celebration at their home on Christmas day, with lots of food, chatter, and gift-giving. Their kids announced that they would be over to celebrate on December 23rd, not the 25th. They both felt discounted by thoughtless adult children who made plans without their input. Now, how could Christmas day be anything but bleak? But wait! On Christmas morning she wrote, “Merry CHRISTmas! What a beautiful morning with the new snowfall. Relaxing, quiet day. So nice to be done with everything and just enjoy the day. Wow! Another new experience! Another new experience for both of us. And isn’t life just full of them? Blessings to fill up the holes/spaces where something else has left our lives, and literally made room for new and wonderful experiences to wander in. Another grace-filled gift… Now how is that for a fun and comforting way to look at those future changes–challenges that we know will come?”
During the course of planning for a new Christmas celebration away from family, several friends apologized that they would have me over on Christmas day, but they couldn’t. There would be no way to get me into their homes since I use a wheelchair full time and they have many steps. I knew ahead of time that that would be true with so many. Limited options. Barriers. Barriers to friendship. Barriers to fellowship. Barriers to sharing Christmas together. I would be left out. No room at their Inns, I guess.
But then! A completely unexpected Christmas miracle happened! A fellow, who is my handyman, stopped by one early morning to bring us some baking supplies. As he sipped a cup of Christmas coffee we had gratefully offered him, he cheerfully invited me and a friend over to share Christmas Day dinner with him and his significant other. Totally unexpected since we had never done anything so social before, I was thrilled! No dark, cold, lonely Christmas Day without family? Wow! What a Christmas surprise!
His face suddenly changed from smiley to somber as he began mulling over some new thought. Hesitating, he confessed that he wasn’t sure I could get into his house because he only had stairs at his front door.
Oh no! Shut out again in spite of good intentions. Heavy sigh. What a burden.
He left that morning wondering. Should he have extended the invitation at all?
A few long days passed. Then he sent me a text. When I opened it, I realized that I had just received the best Christmas card anyone could have possibly sent…
He had built a ramp!
I was still welcome and wanted!
That was all I ever needed to know.
And oh, we had a wonderful Christmas day together…turkey with all the trimmings, a 9-foot Douglas Fir tree sparkling with colorful ornaments, Christmas carols softly wafting through the rooms, candles glowing, Christmas stories read aloud to each other, gifts exchanged, a rollicking game of Christmas trivia. Seen through huge picture windows, a lacy panorama of fresh white snow on woodland branches provided the perfect backdrop for such a gathering of peaceful hearts brimming with good cheer.
What a wonderful Christmas Re-Invented!
And, as I look back, out of this Christmas re-invented came a new invention. It’s that process for navigating unexpected change and loss in life which offers help and a hope for renewed happiness. All I need to do is remember it.
“God bless us, everyone!”
Thanks for reading
and Happy New Year to You and Yours,