Ah, Christmas. ‘Tis the season, deck the halls, joy to the world, and all that stuff. Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, celebrations often come with obligations and complications. Christmas, for those of us that partake in it, has multiple, and sometimes conflicting meanings. For some, Christmas is a religious observance. Although I respect the Christian origins of the holiday, I don’t follow any particular religion, have been to church only a handful of times, and associate Christmas more with elves than I do wise men. Christmas is primarily a commercial event for many people, and although I do enjoy giving and receiving, I appreciate the thought put into a gift more so than the dollar amount. Finally, Christmas, for many, surrounds family traditions. For me, the term “family” is as diverse as the specific activities that I enjoy with different family members. “Families” are groups you are born or adopted into, ones your divorced parents marry you into, ones you yourself marry into, and ones that accumulate throughout your life from circles of friends and colleagues. I enjoy spending time with all these individuals, but I value more personal time with smaller groups than large gatherings where I exchange small talk with a variety of people. I also appreciate private time during the holidays, in which I have more time to paint, write, read, and watch movies. I believe the notion of “celebrating” should not be limited to one set of activities on one specific day. My rituals aren’t always traditional, but they are genuine and specific to me.
My father and step-mother came to Durham at Thanksgiving, and we all had Thanksgiving dinner at my step-sister’s house, with her husband and two children. We talked some about politics, and all of us adults are Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton. But I already had a letdown after the election and didn’t want to rehash it. We had a good meal, and everyone enjoyed the tomato and cucumber salad Paul made. We always bring a vegetable, especially because the two of us eat a lot of them, and I just had a craving for this salad the day before. Paul enthusiastically agreed with my request and was sure to add one of his favorite, semi-secret ingredients, cilantro. The following Friday we had dinner out with “the parents” as Brandee and I call them. I believe we will see them again after New Year’s Day.
My mother likes to get all the extended families together, as was the tradition in the past, but we now have our own, unique rituals. She comes to visit early in December, when I am done teaching classes, and we see movies, shop, and make daily outings to one of our favorite places, The Yogurt Pump in Chapel Hill. Sometimes, as I am sitting in the car, waiting for my mom to return with our cones, I remember how, when I was in graduate school at UNC, I choreographed a routine for parking my scooter outside; climbing the steps in (wearing my prosthetic legs), while using the wall for support; walking up to the counter, without any crutches; and returning slowly to a table, carrying my own cone. It sometimes makes me sad, recalling how I could be more independent before my 2007 accident, but then I remind myself that I am glad to have finished my degree and moved on to a fulltime position as Senior Lecturer for UNCG, and that I am grateful that my mom still loves going to the Pump as much as I do. We also found great sales at the mall and saw “The Edge of Seventeen,” which was excellent. We both lamented about how many movies are so long now, and so many of them are depressing. We just wanted to have fun.
Ilene and I had often talked in art therapy about establishing my own unique traditions, for I used to feel guilty about remaining in North Carolina, rather than going to Ohio, for the holidays. Paul and I did fly there one year on Christmas, but the airports were packed, and we almost missed our connecting flight, because my wheelchair got lost. As discussed in my blog about our trip to the Memphis College of Art, flying is extra difficult for me. And, as I’ve grown older, Christmas just doesn’t have the same allure. Every year, my dad jokes about how I used to behave during Christmas as a child. When I was young, Christmas was primarily about the presents, although I reveled in all the Christmas activities: making and decorating cookies; hanging all the ornaments, garland, and lights, inside and outside the house; sitting on Santa’s lap; and caroling. My dad chuckles as he recalls how I would be awake almost all night on Christmas Eve in anticipation. I loved opening presents and then, throughout the day, despite my sleep deprivation, playing with new toys with my cousins from out of town, or playing board games with my grandparents. I also adored eating a Christmas dinner that I “helped” my mom to prepare and falling asleep early in front of the Christmas tree. Then in a few days, after New Year’s was over, the tree came down, I went back to school, and I crashed. Teachers would call my parents to express concern about my melancholy. I attribute this now somewhat with it being winter in Ohio, but I know it was largely due to just letdown and exhaustion. I would cheer up over time. Now I just feel happy to see all the decorations and to have time off from work. I don’t know what I’ll do specifically on Christmas Day, in fact, I haven’t even looked at the calendar to see what day it falls on. But I’ll be home, likely in my pajamas, watching something on television or talking to Paul or playing with the kitties. I will certainly have Paul drop me off for some movies over the weekend.
These activities may be familiar to some of my readers and foreign to others, raising the question: What is the true meaning of Christmas? I think there are many answers. Perhaps the more important question to ask is how to take the elements of joy we feel at Christmas and spread them throughout the year. I would say to everyone, regardless of the season: bake, if you enjoy it; sing if you feel compelled; decorate your surroundings with color; relish time with loved ones; be generous and thoughtful; and open a bottle of good wine and savor every sip.