READY: Sometimes Christmas and the holidays hurt

Mary Ready, Ready or Not

My heart just isn’t in it this year. If you’re feeling the same because of a divorce, recent family death, poor health, or any number of life’s bereavements, the Christmas spirit may be hard to summon up.  

In previous years, I wrote lots of Christmas cards, each with handwritten messages personalized for the recipient. I baked. I shopped. I decorated. I wrapped. I sang in church and community Christmas programs. I even went caroling. I made Christmas food baskets for the needy and boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  

And never once, did “Bah, Humbug,” cross my mind.

This year, I can only write checks for my favorite Christmas charities and miss out on the personal involvement I enjoyed so much.  

Frank is very ill, and I’m his 24/7 caregiver. He is my priority above all else. Home health care and hospice are some help, but three o’clock in the morning finds me on my own when he’s in some crisis episode.

Any free time I may have for gift shopping or other holiday activities would be a good opportunity for a nap or a shower.  

But, since we are not guaranteed another Christmas if we decide to skip the present one, I’m making the effort on a smaller scale.

I’m not doing Christmas cards. And the gift giving has been simplified. At Thanksgiving my family drew names. Each person is responsible for buying one gift (maximum $25-$30) for the person whose name was drawn.

A small tree replaces the huge one I usually buy, and I’ve placed it in the window seat in the den where Frank can see it from his hospital bed. I put a simple nativity scene on the mantle and a wreath on the wall above it. I will still put out my outdoor nativity scene since it’s been a family tradition for many years.  

Grocery store and deli items will replace the baking. I’ll still get to sing in my church’s cantata even if I have missed most of the rehearsals and provided I can find someone to stay with my husband.

As I brought out the ornaments and lights of Christmases past, I remembered with some emotion how much I once loved to decorate the house and create the “perfect” tree. From the big green ornament box, I selected just the oldest and most precious for the little tree and left the majority of the decorations in their wrappings.  

Please don’t think I’m feeling sorry for myself or that I’m anti-Christmas. Neither is the case.

It’s more a change of attitude, an epiphany emerging from our altered life circumstances. I’ve come to realize (or re-realize) that Christmas is not meant to be produced, directed, staged, and orchestrated by the family Mama. It’s not performance-based. 

So this year, I doubt if my Christmas presentation will rank more than two stars according to the social standards of yuletide production values.

Our down-sized celebration will be just fine. I may not really be in the mood for the usual Christmas festivities, but I can rejoice that Frank is still with us and that all our family will be together to make another memory.

Dear reader, be gentle with those whose sadness is made worse by the season.

When Christmas hurts, the bleakness of the coming January doesn’t seem so bad. Don’t insist they “get over it” or push them into attending parties or even a church service. Be loving and patient. Give them time to heal until future Christmases can restore their lost joy.

To those whose pain casts a shadow over Christmas spirit: You never feel so lonely as when surrounded by people who love you, but don’t understand why you feel the way you do. Your heart is too broken to celebrate. But you are not alone as long as you remember the One who was born as a King in a lowly manger and whose death on a cross was a victory. The grave gave Him up to live again for you. He knows your sorrow and understands what no one else can.

Every Christmas is a good Christmas because Jesus lives.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.