Emotions are funny. I knew that I was feeling unsettled about the approach of my favorite holiday, but didn't really get just how unsettled until day before yesterday when I sat looking at a Southern Living magazine while Bob had PT on his new knee. I paged through, looking at Christmas cookies and cakes and garlands that decked the halls. Usually I would enjoy that. I have never (at least that I remember) been stressed about Christmas. It has not been about finding the perfect gift or making the perfect cookie, but about hope and love and grace and family and friends. But on Monday those pictures of holiday perfection just made me want to cry.
I thought at first that it was about leaving the Pegram House, where I have loved celebrating Christmas for the past seven years. But honestly, Pegram was an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. The house itself can't be the thing. It must be the gatherings there. When my dad was in the middle of everything.
This isn't technically my first Christmas without my dad. He died just before Christmas last year. But he had been so sick, and had struggled so, that last Christmas I mostly felt relief for the end of his suffering. I missed him, prayed for him and cried for him, but I knew he was so much better off that it colored my grief at the time.
Where are you, Christmas? In The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the question was asked by Cindy Lou Who. She found herself seeking the old feelings she had around the holiday. But she was changing, as everyone does. She needed to find her new feelings, and find Christmas in them. She was growing up, seeing for the first time the emptiness of the holiday trappings themselves.
Like Cindy Lou, I know better than ever that Christmas doesn't happen "out there". Not on a store shelf, not in a bakery or even in a church. Not even that magical, mystical moment when all the candles are lit on Christmas Eve and the organ quits playing on Silent Night and the beautiful sound of voices lifted together fills the air.
The holidays are long gone when our own children woke us early and could not wait to see what lay beneath the tree for them. The day hasn't depended on five people living in our house for many years. Yet, this year's change seems even more drastic than the empty nest-adjusting years. This year my Christmas, my personal one, is different. And maybe the most helpful thing I have found to cling to is not the narrative of the nativity. Not the centuries old stories of a young mother, a donkey, a baby and star. It is the unchanging willingness of God to meet me in the quiet with a word for me. Sometimes I feel the nearness of the spirit of eternity in the warm arms and love of my husband. Or the hugs of my loved ones. The voice of my mom on the phone. Christmas doesn't happen in a void. And it doesn't happen only in December. Where are you, Christmas? Ah, there you are. Still there, under my solar plexus. In that little unscientific place of solace where my soul rests beside my heart.