The Holiday Season

Well folks, we did it. The Fall season, as it so often does in Illinois, has come and gone with the blink of an eye. Autumn is still here, technically, but Old Man Winter is blearily stirring from a long slumber, and the typical November snows have dusted many a doorstep in these parts. Thanksgiving is here in a few days, and with it should be a wonderful hurrah for “football weather,” the brisk breeze tossing the remaining leaves for a ride while the blue skies tease some sunshine before we creak into December and with it, the Christmas season.

Those who know me can count on lots of whinging in regards to the winter weather, and how often-disappointed I am with Decembers in Illinois being a warmish, rainy month with almost no snowfall on average. I’d like to think that after an experiment last year that those feelings are no more.

My wife was kind enough to tolerate me proffering what we ended up calling “Post-Christmas,” where we wouldn’t do our Christmas until mid-January, so as to have some snow to set the festive tableau. And sure enough there was snow, no shortage of it in fact, and Post-Christmas was celebrated at our old house on a January weekend.

It was….weird. Exchanging gifts is always kinda fun, but after December 25th, listening to Christmas music didn’t feel right, seeing the glow of the tree wasn’t a thrill, and yeah, it was something of a dud. But I’m glad we did it, because now I’m infinitely more aware of what I need to be focusing on as far as the Christmas season goes.

Christmas is communal, and requires the enthusiasm from neighbors and friends to mark the festivities. It’s about family, care, and remembering that ultimately we need to be good to each other and ourselves. While I don’t have an intense personal connection with Jesus, I’d like to think he would sign off on the swell of emotion that comes with those thoughts in tandem with his eponymous holiday. Kindness, goodwill toward men, that kinda stuff.

So yeah, I’m going into the 2022 Christmas season with an all-new vibe, and it relates quite a bit to the oft-forgotten stepchild of Christmas, our old friend Thanksgiving. Hoo-boy, poor Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is complicated for me. I have so many warm memories from Thanksgivings past where family would gather at my grandparents’ place and mingle in an overstuffed house, as one does. If not that, my mom would prepare us a great little bounty for a rare meal in our dining room. Football was usually always an option, naps often mandatory, and more likely than not the host venue would already have some Christmas decorations up, so the most wonderful time of the year was brought in with a bang.

Several years ago now around this time of year was when my grandmother became extremely ill and the family gatherings transitioned from wild and wooly get-togethers to somber, stressful councils on how best to navigate our broken hearts. She died nearly a year later, and the family, along with the holidays, have become an extremely strange thing to navigate.

On one hand, my grandmother was, for all intents and purposes, our Christmas icon. Her love for family kept her house lit like a beacon during this time of year, and we could congregate there, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, and exchange hugs, drama, laughter, probably some tears in there (happy and frustrating), stories, and presents for us kids. All the while she would bask in it, soaking in the rush of her house once again being full and noisy. It’s the stuff people live for, realized.

With that beacon extinguished, we’ve tried our best to not smash into the rocks. My grandpa, who in this analogy would be the mourning lighthouse keeper, is much more of a solitary figure who enjoys company, but this time of year is just as hard on him as all of us, probably far more. Like him, we realize her absence a thousand times harder with each listen to Silent Night or each wistful evening spent watching snow come down through the beam of a streetlight.

So here we are, scattered to the winds a bit, trying to build our own holiday forts to heal and cope with Thanksgiving and Christmas, occasionally with one another, but more often than not, with all of us grandkids grown up and living our lives in full, struggling to find the time to recreate the big messy affairs that defined those glorious years before.

A few years back I wrote a Christmas book, a poem-y sort of thingamajig, to help me sort my feelings out and make the process of mourning into a tall tale where in the end, the main character sits in the glow of the Christmas tree with his dying grandmother and tearily clings to her as she assures him that they’ll never leave one another, no matter what. The book helped, but it doesn’t make it easier.

My wife and I drove around a December or two ago, listening to Christmas songs and enjoying the lights and decorations. After a few houses we began to talk about memories and by the time we were almost done both of us were in tears, remembering our grandparents and times gone by that we can never get back. As people who have chosen not to have children, I feel like this is one of the major tradeoffs of that experience. While we may gain that abundance of time and financial cushion that would otherwise be lost, we’re also not able to pass that warmth of Christmastime to children and salve the wounds of loss with the looks in the faces of kids realizing how awesome the holiday season can be.

Thankfully many of our older friends are having children now, and we’ve become good friends with some who’ve already built little families of their own who give us a glimpse of that joy, which is more than enough for us.

On that subject, I suppose I should reflect on what I’m thankful for this year.

I’m grateful for my wife, who makes my life complete. I thank the stars for her every day, and the little family we have (made complete by three tiny dogs) is everything I could have ever wanted.

I’m thankful to my in-laws, who have embraced me as the awkward son they never had, and whose company I thoroughly enjoy. They recently moved nearby after years of being hours away, so I’m especially looking forward to spending the holiday season with them now that they’re so close.

I’m thankful to my sister for marrying an awesome guy. Well done, sis!

I’m thankful to the new job I’ve been at for the last few months. I’m hoping that I can end my career here, and from the connections I’ve established in the short time since my employ, my confidence that that’s possible makes me feel a confidence and contentment I’ve never known.

I’m thankful for Mark and Tom getting blink-182 back together.

I’m grateful for the health of my family and friends, and to have a minimum of chains around our necks that we pretend don’t exist. I’m grateful to have old friends that still text and call from time to time, as well as new friends who have come into and sweetened our lives in recent years.

And I’m grateful for you, whoever you are, for taking the time to read this, and I hope your Thanksgiving (and Christmas, if I don’t post before then) is everything you want it to be and more.

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