The River sums it up for me. I wish I had a river I could skate away on. It happens every year. There are holiday parties I love to go to and others that are painful. I have a friend who is brilliant with small talk so I go to parties with her so I don't have to say much. I marvel at how she can ask thoughtful, personal questions based on what the other person has told her. It just never occurs to me. I can talk about how good the spread is or how much I like the music, but small talk, the kind where you actually learn something about people, that eludes me.
It's probably why I disliked family holidays so much. I can only remember about three family holiday dinners in my life where I walked away thinking how lovely that was, how wonderful that was. The constant in these three wasn't the food or the event but the person who invited me. She has a gift for putting the right people in a room with the right food and the right mood and I measure other parties against hers.
I like to give people presents, but I feel awkward getting them. I like to sing Christmas carols, but don't much like listening to them for very long. I love to visit churches, but don't stay long enough to mingle with other church people. It's like being a reconaissance scout, surveying the lay of the land in order to let the miners know if it's safe or dangerous to proceed into that long dark tunnel. I'm the canary in the mine. I never feel like I'm the miners.
When you spend the day alone, Christmas never really seems like just another day. There's something in the air, there are fewer people out and about because they are all inside with presents and trees, and the day is suspended somehow and everything waits.
Wishing someone a "merry" Christmas is just a greeting, of course, but I like to think it means, "have the kind of Christmas you need this year." If you are having a terrible time at your job, I wish that you could be able to put the job on a shelf just long enough to have some peace. If you have trouble with your children or your parents, I wish you the ability to appreciate that they are just trying to get through their day too. And if you find yourself alone, and everyone asks you how you will be spending the holidays, I wish you the courage to say, "I will be spending it alone and I look forward to the solitude because it will feed my soul."
Holidays are stressful because it's easy to let others tell you how to spend them. It's not the most wonderful time of the year, there's never peace on earth, and stores don't care if you can't handle the debt. People are still homeless and poor, they are hurting and sad. Families can't always be together and when they are, they fight.
But then, there's this light. This particular holiday holds hope and promise in its open hand and the symbol is light. Christmas is a celebration of a better tomorrow. You can acknowledge that regardless of the hopelessness and grief that you feel today, the sun will come out tomorrow, just like Annie wails. There is tremendous vulnerability in evidence here in all the Christmas card pictures of a baby boy whose poor parents were left to fend for themselves in an unforgiving landscape. But it's still all about hope. Be honest and craft the holiday you need.
I've selected my river this year and I will skate away. But I always hold the promise of growth and change, and even peace for tomorrow.
So, have yourself your very own personal kind of Christmas and cherish the light.
Photo by me 2012