For those of us born into the tradition of full-bodied Christmases, it can be a challenging time. I recall a quote from humourist Erma Brombeck saying, “There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” Doesn’t that just say it all?! The dawn of Christmas morning is about to come ’round again and I can predict with an accuracy based on sixty-some years of experience how it will go:
I will have the first stirrings of consciousness—What’s on today? Followed immediately by—Ohmigod it’s Christmas! A most amazing sizzle zings up my spine and my eyes fly open. And then I slowly enter my adult reality—there are no presents that have been tormenting me under the tree for a week or more. There is no stocking stuffed with unexpected surprises from Santa. No dozens of cousins will be arriving with their fabulous new dolls and board games. The tingle that assaulted me melts away, and thus begins, as they say, just another day in paradise.
So I would agree with Erma Brombeck that for many of us Christmas Day opens with this residue of disappointment, as we step into a day that cannot live up to the expectations of our inner five-year old. You’d think, after so many years of a very different experience, that all those naïve expectations would have long disappeared. I am in awe of the programming that has my first thought on Christmas Day still be so loaded with anticipation. It’s something that got put in place very early in life. I can remember as vividly as if I were handling them right now the string of Christmas tree lights that my family bought the year I was three. Each light had a bell around it and was painted with the story of a nursery rhyme. I can see Little Bo Peep with her vast petticoats and a half dozen sheep; Jack tumbling down the hill with Jill directly behind; Humpty Dumpty in a panicky lean off the brick wall toward his sorry fate.
(Amazingly, this is the same brain that forgot my much-used email password for a few moments yesterday. As I say: it’s powerful programming that follows us from childhood.)
The programming is tightly tied in with family. For most people, whether Christ is the star of the show or not, Christmas is about family. People get together at Christmas and have a rousing time with their families. Sometimes it’s a rousing good time; sometimes it’s not. For every happy-family story we hear, there’s an equally emotional one about struggling through the day, either having or trying to avoid a big blow-up, repeatedly getting caught by old family patterns. When we were children, Christmas occurred in the heart and tight embrace of family, and these close relatives were taken for granted as much as an atom’s nucleus assumes the eternal grasp of its electrons. They’re just there, for ever and ever.
But as we get older, our families disperse and our roles in them alter dramatically. For me, there is no blood family here in Australia. My two beloved offspring have been living in Canada for several years and they and my mother are having their own Christmas—in the company of some forty members of my extended family, I must say.
So if we’re no longer wide-eyed children, how does a household like ours awake on Christmas morning and proceed to have a good day? Well, Michael and Judy will be in Sydney with a son, daughter, little twin grandchildren and assorted in-laws. Theirs will be a family Christmas. The other four of us Shedders will wake on Christmas morning, probably each of us somewhat sad not to be a child. We’ll swap Christmas greetings and have a glass of champagne with a festive breakfast. We’ll likely head to the beach for a swim and catch a few waves if the surf’s not too rough. There may well be a nap involved somewhere.
And then we will travel to Coopernook to the warm hearth of our friends Ken and Sal’s beautiful new B&B where ten or so of us will have gathered to share good cheer. Daniel will have prepared his candied yams, and we will bring colourful salads and decadent desserts. Sal will have a few beautiful old decorations up and Ken will have a turkey in the barbecue. There’ll be classy seasonal music in the background. The event will be a reminder that this is Christmas and we are entitled to bring some childlike joy and innocence to it. Sal calls it the Orphans’ Christmas (a term I resist because I prefer to feel blessed rather than the surviving victim of a deadly accident).
The truth is, we “orphans” have set up something special that really works for us. These days I believe in structures as strongly as ever I believed in Santa Claus. So to defeat that early programming, and avoid being one of the statistics on Christmas-time depression, I will firmly embrace that moment of lost childhood on Christmas morning. And then with those around me, I’ll create a day that celebrates fellowship, peace, good will and the birth of important things. It’s something any of us can do with a bit of thoughtful design.
Actually, I predict it will be a rather special day in paradise.
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