Christmas music started playing on the radio right before Thanksgiving.
And I was probably the first one to turn it on.
I’ve always loved Christmas–every single thing about it. But especially the music.
But this year, the music is different. It’s haunting, actually. Every song carries with it a particular memory, and it isn’t exactly pleasant to hear. From the Chipmunks’ rendition of “Christmas, Don’t be late” to “Jingle Bell Rock” to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, I have flashes of memories that now poke at my heart in a painful kind of way. It’s easy to cry this season–a lot. And it’s because this Christmas is so…different now.
Hospice gave us the heads up that my Dad has only days left now and making it until Christmas is out of the question. So now, the only song that seems vaguely relatable is this one: Where are you Christmas?
“Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away? Where is the laughter you used to bring me? Why can’t I hear music play? My world is changing, I’m re-arranging. Does that mean Christmas changes too?”
I found myself in a puddle of tears the other night when this song came over the radio. Just like the song says, my world is changing… and I often feel like a zombie passing through this merry season blanketed with twinkle lights and pine trees and busy shoppers.
But you see, I know I’m not the only one. I guess that’s why I felt like writing this. I know there are others this Christmas who are having their first–or maybe second or third–grown-up Christmas. Maybe they’re alone at night, missing a soldier. Maybe they’re aching over a heartbreak. Maybe they’re missing a child or refusing to put lights up after a nasty divorce. Maybe Christmas this year isn’t so merry.
And because I’m one of these people, I’ve been on a personal mission of sorts to find the Christmas I’ve always known. The one that gives me swirls of colorful memory every time I see a Santa or a nativity set or houses clothed in sparkling color. The one that had music fill our house growing up and the one that had me in my dad’s arms dancing to Jingle Bell Rock. The one that had my dad on the roof hanging lights and cursing under his breath when his nail gun didn’t work. The one that brought snow. And family. And turkey with cranberry sauce. And stockings. And memories of not being able to fall asleep because of my imagination creating footsteps on the roof.
I’ve missed that Christmas.
So I prayed. A lot. Where is Christmas, God? Where is it? And nothing came to me, really. Nothing except a small thought that I should buy decorations and take them to my parents’ house. So I did just that. Couldn’t hurt.
I spent last Saturday hanging lights, setting up the old ceramic nativity set, stringing garland, and dancing around to Christmas music as my dad watched from his bed, in and out of sleep, captivated at times by the rotating Christmas tree that I set up by his bed. He used to be the one to do it. But now, it’s my turn to create. And a little bit of Christmas started to show itself. Slowly, but surely.
After that, I watched as my husband’s side of the family poured in from hours away, visiting dad, who they’d only met a handful of times, speaking softly and filling the home with quiet laughter.
And there it was. I felt a brush of Christmas again.
And of course–family from my side has come almost every day.
Then we all watched my dad’s favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Even though he slept through most of it, we laughed at all the same parts and cried at all the same lines.
Then friends from church took my sister to pick out a Christmas tree. And some came to share scriptures and holiday messages and offer warm hugs.
And little by little, although it’s not the same (and may not ever be) I feel like I’m finding Christmas simply by realizing that I create the season for myself. WE are the spirit of Christmas. And as we change, so will Christmas. But it’s magic–it’s spirit of love and remembrance for all we have–never will if we keep it alive.
We choose to hang the lights. We make the choice to turn up the music and let snowflakes touch our tongues. We choose to remember, even while saying goodbye to a loved one who made Christmas wonderful for us our entire life, that because of Christmas day, we’ll never be apart.
Whether you’re missing a Christmas season gone by when Santa was real and reindeer could fly and mom and dad cut out gingerbread men with you with unwrinkled hands–or missing a Christmas season where your heart didn’t ache like it does now–it’s easy to question where Christmas went. It’s easy to give up on that special feeling that every child knows.
I guess that’s just part of life–it’s just part of the lesson that comes on your first grown-up Christmas when you realize Christmas doesn’t just fall into your lap and bring joy and peace and instant excitement. Christmas instead, is the opportunity to create it, simply by remembering the one who gave it all up for us.
There it is, I feel myself thinking every once in a while while seeing Dad smile at the lights I hung or closing my teary eyes on a memory of opening a doll I’d asked for all year and watching Dad grin with his full head of hair and youthful eyes.
There it is, I feel myself thinking now when family surrounds us, offering love and standing as a testament as to why that special baby once laid in a manger under a star-filled sky.
There it is, I feel myself thinking when we place the same star my dad used to always place on top of the tree on top of a picture of the Savior instead this year.
There you are, Christmas.