It is December 22nd, and I don't know what Christmas is going to look like this year. I had a plan, and it was a good one. Some good friends and I were going to go into the mountains and do some cross country skiing. Believe you me, despite the fact that it is not what I would plan for my Christmas if I had the choice, it would be more than enough to make Christmas magical. Mountain air, gliding over snow, always magical. (For the record, if I could plan MY perfect Christmas, it would be with a husband/family... And would probably be spending it in the mountains with good friends ;).) All I had to do was survive Christmas Eve without too many special traditions to share with someone, and then Christmas could be really fantastic.
Then the weather forecasts started to come in. I haven't checked the most recent ones, but it's not looking good for my plan B. We may be able to go on Saturday, but the temperatures do not promise to make for the best skiing. Sunday, skiing sounds perfect, but the roads to get there will most likely not be worth the risk. So, it's quite possible that I will go Saturday, be home in time for the worst of Christmas Eve, and have little (if anything) going on Christmas Day. I rarely admit these things to anyone, because I feel like it's too pathetic for words. The reason that I decided to come out and say it is because I've read a couple of blog posts in the last few days from people struggling with infertility and singleness, and it was really good, partly just because I was reminded that I am not actually alone in the fact that holidays are not the easiest this year (or for several years...)
One of the posts did a fantastic job of looking at the holy family on the first Christmas. Mary traveling, feeling large and uncomfortable with a very difficult road and way to travel. Joseph, who nearly had to divorce Mary a few months before, leading the way. A child born, not in a warm, safe environment that had been lovingly prepared by a nesting mother, but in a stable, surrounded by livestock. Something clicked for me in looking at that post. Somehow I have gotten a picture of Christmas embedded in my mind and I can't seem to get it out. It's Christmas trees and glowing lights, maybe candles for ambience. It's baking Christmas cookies as a family. It's watching Christmas movies together, going to Mass together, and spending the day in some way that's meaningful to all. All of this, of course, with a smile on everyone's face while we are overjoyed with Christmas spirit.
The reality is that candles are best done without small children around, and calm feelings invoked by Christmas tree lights can only go so far with the chaos of family. I can't even eat Christmas cookies anymore. The rest might be nice, but likely punctuated by a lot more fit throwing from sugar highs and everyone being ramped up with excitement than what occurs in anyone's thoughts or dreams. While most people DO walk around with a smile on our faces during Christmas (at least at gatherings and for photos) there are plenty of people who have pasted them on, because that's what's expected of them.
There is nothing wrong with those things, and I am so excited for those who do get to celebrate whatever iterations of those things as are meaningful for their families. I am especially excited for those that get to experience it after many long years of NOT having it! There are lots of people for whom the reality of Christmas means drowning in credit card debt to try to attempt the "perfect Christmas". There are people that have family gatherings that are made stressful by the built up baggage of the years, some overt, and some festering beneath the surface. Some families will be celebrating around one of the many bugs and viruses that spread so rapidly this time of year. Many people will have days full of gatherings, but each one painful as they work around questions and comments that poke at deep, hidden hurts, such as the grief of infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth, singleness, mental illness, and so much more. Or there is one family that lost their husband/father in a bike vs. vehicle accident this summer. Many others that have lost loved ones and have to face the holidays with a gaping hole that can't be filled. Even concerns about politics and many other things loom large in ways that can't completely be put to rest and are sometimes even exacerbated by all of the celebrations.
The point is not to become mired in the dark side of the holidays. These are just the every day realities that we all have to think about. These things do not always keep people from truly celebrating, and sometimes it means people choosing joy that is so much more meaningful because of their struggles. It's just that there is no such thing as perfection in this life, not even in a perfect-looking Christmas.
Speaking of the "perfect Christmas". Let's get back to the holy Family. How perfect was their first Christmas? I would say that if we can step back from the familiar details long enough to see the real suffering that is inherent with those circumstances, we might see things a little differently. I can't see Christmas this year, because I don't know what it will look like. I don't know exactly what my plans will be. I may spend some of it with friends, or I may have a quiet day at home. It may be difficult, or it may be peaceful and sweet. I never know how the emotions will go. (I do know that I have some good ideas for food that I am excited to enjoy!) The point is, maybe I'm going about this wrong, being in search of a perfect Christmas, or lacking the perfect Christmas, the next acceptable alternative. I'm feeling like what I need to go in search of is Christ, whether in the Mass (which may not feel great, but He is always there, no matter how it feels!), whether in the quiet or in the people that I spend time with. Know that whatever your circumstances are, the ones that you are thrilled about and the ones that you are dreading, the ones that you can see coming and the ones that take you by surprise, in the people that make your Christmas special and in the special people that make your Christmas difficult, and whatever else, I will be praying that you will also find Christ this Christmas.