The Mixed Feelings of Christmas

The Mixed Feelings of Christmas

I know I’m not the only one who approaches the holidays with a mixed feeling of happy anticipation and dread. I’m also probably not the only one who looks forward to cherished traditions and time with loved ones, while also fantasizing about being somewhere far away for the entire month of December.

Today is Christmas Day and I am celebrating it during the reign of a brutally repressive and oppressive US regime. My social media feeds lately have featured many posts along these lines:

I hate Christmas, it’s all about Capitalism and Classism!

How can I celebrate Christmas now that my cherished husband/child/parent is gone?

Holidays with family means putting up with their homo/transphobia and holding my tongue when my racist uncle/parent/cousin goes on about MAGA and the effing wall!

I don’t celebrate xmas but I’ve got to have it in my face for weeks. Just get it over with!

There’s no Christmas at my house this year, no job means no joy.

Holidays with family means pretending I’m someone I’m not and hoping they don’t notice that I’m spending a lot of time in the guest room/bathroom/outside.

I’m so stressed out during December. There’s so much to get done and so much expectation. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

I’ve felt all of those feelings rolling up on the holidays one time or another. The feeling expressed in that last one has shown up in more than one of my posts this month.

So why don’t I opt out of December and all it’s occasions and events and expectations? I’ve been thinking about that and so far what I’ve come up with is that many of my most cherished childhood memories were formed during Christmas season. The food, the traditions, time spent feeling contented and loved. Those memories are the ones I pull out each year, like cherished keepsakes, to dust off and enjoy once again.

I remember when my brother and I were bigger kids, we were allowed to unpack our stockings before our parents got out of bed. The contents varied little year to year, and still we were eager to spill them onto the floor and conduct an inventory. If you’re of a certain age and from a similar cultural background, you may recognize some of these from your own childhood: A tangerine in the toe of the stocking, an assortment of exotic nuts in the shell (Brazil nuts, almonds, others), a candy cane, chocolate coins (terrible chocolate but always a treat in coin form), and on very good years, the Lifesaver books (remember those?).

Every year my brother and I went through the Sears catalog and wishfully marked the toys and games we were hoping would show up under the tree. As we got older, we realized we wouldn’t get nearly any of what we wished for, even with Santa participating in gift giving, and our lists slimmed down accordingly. I don’t remember when I stopped believing in Santa. My nine year old still does. My nineteen year old says he clung to the belief until he was thirteen, because he wanted to hang on to the magic of the season.

We were not people of means and my parents grew up with parents who had experienced the depression and I think all of that resulted in frugality and creativity in gift giving. We always got a game to play with each other, maybe two; some clothing items, a few special things that each of us had hoped for. We got some amazing homemade gifts over the years. Every year, we were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve, after the church service. Every year for a long time, we received homemade pajamas the night before Christmas. Pajamas my mom made from the same cloth in patterns according to our age and perceived gender. My brother got tops and bottom and my sister and I got night gowns.

Traditions around food were and still are important to me. A traditional Combs Christmas brunch includes favorites from childhood like munchy-crunchy omelet (a casserole with potatoes, bacon or ham, cheese and egg), cinnamon rolls, fruit salad mixed with whipped cream and the grand finale of snow pudding. I have many wonderful memories of sitting at the table with family, enjoying the food and company, telling stories and, in recent years, passing the traditions down to our kids.

One such tradition is making and giving away holiday treats. I picked this up from my parents, and I’ve brought my kids into the tradition as well. My dad still makes candy from the recipes he got from his mother, who made candy to sell during the depression. My mom also has cherished recipes that I’ve made copies of and have adopted as my own. Over the years, I’ve honed my selection to maximize ease, deliciousness and ability to fit well within a cookie tin. As soon as they were able to stand on a stool and help me count out ingredients and stir, my kids have taken part. I have many pictures of them helping over the years. My eldest made sure to copy my recipes before he moved out and is already planning to carry on the tradition.

These happy memories and traditions are on my mind a lot this year as I begin to think about future years and speculate on the changes coming. My eldest is an adult now living on his own in another state. He won’t necessarily be coming home for every Christmas. With divorce looming, the way I and the rest of the family celebrates Christmas is in flux, too. Will I spend Christmas Eve or Christmas morning with my youngest, or will my ex and I alternate? I’m already mourning the loss of the traditions my wife and have built over 25 years.

Mourning, loss, anticipation of change. These are definitely bringing my experience of the season into sharper focus. I’m already sad about the changes, even though the reason for the changes is something I’m happy about. More mixed feelings for the season that already has plenty. And even with that grief and uncertainty, I feel a sense of happy anticipation. My kids and I will figure out which traditions we want to carry on going forward, and what new ones we’d like to introduce. And the other loved ones in my life will be a part of those new traditions as well. There is much to look forward to.

One Reply to “The Mixed Feelings of Christmas”

  1. Reading that felt like we grew up together. Or that you were hanging out listening to my mind, some how in my head. Thank you ! it all has faded and seems so like a dream. it brought tears and some deep emotions to the surfaces. I’m so for your divorce, but you have always seemed like you find the light… good luck into the future! Happy New Year

    I didn’t expect to hit anyone so deeply, thank you for sharing your reactions. Happy New Year to you, too – CK

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