Christmas was fun when I was a kid. My parents, brother, and extended family–about twenty of us in all–would go to my grandparents’ house down the road for a big meal every Thanksgiving and Christmas and monthly birthdays and who knows what else. While I wasn’t necessarily close to my extended family and always lamented the person closest to my age was my younger brother, having these family get-togethers made me feel like a part of something. Even though my quiet nerdy nature made me the black sheep of the family, I didn’t complain (much) about sitting in the garage with a bunch of kids.
Every year for Christmas, I would put up two Christmas trees: one at my parents’ house and one at my grandparents’ house. One year, after Grandmother gave the tree and ornaments to some family members who no longer had one, I got to decorate the new tree with whatever I wanted, which included a bunch of bright pink ornaments, red and gold trim, and–courtesy of my brother–a cardboard star with a big purple smile. It was the goofiest looking tree I had ever seen, but dangit, I was the one who put that monstrosity together and everyone else could decorate it themselves if they found the tree ugly.
Presents at my grandparents’ house were equally fun. My grandmother never wrote the recipient’s actual name on the gift tags. Instead, she would write some code name, usually based on a theme like Christmas-related people or comic strip characters. As I got older, I helped her out with devising the theme and occasionally getting to peek at my gifts in advance.
I also assigned myself the job of displaying all the Christmas cards my grandparents received. Cards from church folks, cards from family, cards from years-past friends… My grandmother and I would hang the cards on the living room walls, filling the walls with greetings of joy and holiday wishes. By Christmas Day, cards papered all the living room walls, reminding me of all the people whose lives my grandparents had touched in some way.
As the years passed, things changed. The big family gatherings happened less frequently as the family drifted apart. Granddaddy died when I was 11. Grandmother died last year, although her condition declined during her last several years thanks to Alzheimer’s and a broken hip. There were some Christmases where everyone was so broke that the adults did Secret Santas instead of exchanging gifts for everyone. Fewer Christmas cards arrived thanks to the deaths of all the people who would send them. My parents stopped putting up a tree at their house after their new puppy tried to eat the artificial tree. In some recent years my parents would tell me there wouldn’t be much Christmas in the way of gifts, as if that was the thing that mattered about the holiday. I don’t miss the unwrapping frenzy, though. What I really miss is having everyone together in one place, at least trying to get along for just one day.
Christmas is like any other day in my family now. I go up to visit my parents and brother and usually look forward to seeing them. We have a big dinner (okay, lunch), eat the leftovers for dinner, and then go do our own individual thing. This shouldn’t upset me that much. I’m not celebrating the birth of Jesus (who likely wasn’t born in December anyway) or any of the religious aspects of the season. I just want the holidays to be happy again, not a reminder of what they used to be.
Once the most wonderful time of the year, the holidays are now the most depressing time of the year. If I want to make the holidays more cheerful, I should put in some effort to make the holidays enjoyable again. And yet… I don’t. It feels almost futile at this point, like no one else will appreciate my efforts, which makes me sadder at the prospect of adding some holiday cheer. Maybe I should, even if it means sending out Christmas cards after everyone has long forgotten about Christmas. I do have a big stack of blank Christmas cards that want homes.
Maybe the holiday season isn’t my thing anymore. I don’t know. But whatever the case, I just want some holiday cheer again. Is that too much to ask? To make matters worse, the holidays lead into an even longer depressing period know as winter. Once Christmas, the new year, and my early January birthday are over, I have little to look forward to until spring. And that is truly sad.