Blue Christmas

Last week we had a holiday potluck lunch at work.  People brought the usual assortment of fatty, salty and sweet treats, and the department sat around and ate together.  Some of the folks really don’t know each other all that well, and others really don’t like some of the 800px-Christmas_tree_bauble[1]others.  To get the conversation started, a well-meaning person said, “Let’s go around the table and tell what we’re doing for the holidays.”

This is a gambit loaded with pitfalls, and sure enough, they happened.  Not everybody has the perfect family, or a family, and many people don’t have anywhere to go.  One divorced woman was waiting on her infuriating sister to decide if she was hosting Christmas or not.  A single gay guy said he plans to sleep through it, since he will be singing in choirs or as a soloist (his side job) through Christmas Eve.  Our head of technology (a woman) sat at the table with tears sliding down her face.  She’s married, but they have always spent Christmas with her sister, who died a few months ago.

Christmas is a time of joy for many, of irritation for others, and of sadness for others still.  My father was always melancholy at Christmas because his mother died in December.  Mother would hiss at him, “George, cheer up, for the children!”

Perhaps the bluest Christmas I’ve ever had was the year after Daddy died.  Mother and I went through the motions, even traipsing out into the fields to cut down a cedar tree and dragging it back to the house to decorate.  It was too tall, and Uncle Floyd had to come over and cut the trunk shorter so we could get it in the living room.  We spent many a sad Christmas Day alone together after he died because Mother would not “intrude on someone else’s Christmas,” even though we were invited for dinner many times.

I learned my lesson from that.  If someone cares enough about me to invite me on a holiday, I’ll go.  If I can invite someone else who doesn’t want to be alone, I will.  And I admire the guy at work who just wants to sleep–sometimes you’ve had enough celebrating!  I’d like to thank the friends who give me a reason to celebrate Easter and Thanksgiving, and to thank my sister who makes Christmas happen each year.  And I’m grateful for the friends who help me celebrate throughout the year.

So, a happy Christmas to all, and let’s be sensitive to those who don’t have a picture-perfect holiday.  You may be showing kindness to an “angel, unawares.”

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Winter Blues

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a melancholy day here.  I can’t believe it’s snowing this early in December.  And it’s snow mixed with freezing rain, forecast to turn to black ice later tonight.  Too miserable to go out, but I’m restless inside.

When I was growing up in Tennessee snow was a rare occurance, and greeted with delight.  A snow day!  We got to stay home from school!  I remember one storm when I was small that left over a foot of snow, something that almost never happened.  My brother went out sled riding with his friends and got run over by one of the boys.  The sled runner must have been sharp because it sliced his knee open and he had to have stitches.

Ice storms were more common.  They were actually frightening because the power could go out in addition to the roads getting slick.  Once when I was home from college there was a massive ice storm and the power was out for a few days.  Mother cooked on the wood-burning stove in the garage, and Daddy hauled water up from the well since the pump couldn’t work without electricity.  It was so cold that Mother even let my German shepherd come in the garage with us.  He was rarely allowed to come inside since Mother thought having pets in the house was low-class and dirty.  Poor Chico was so happy!  He always wanted to be an indoor pet, despite his size.

In recent years we’ve had ice storms here, which used to be uncommon.  One of my friends calls it “global weirding,” to explain the more violent weather we seem to get.  Big parts of Connecticut were without power for weeks due to tree branches taking down power lines.

So I guess a relatively mild snow and ice event is nothing to complain about.  Still, I feel grumpy and blue.  So I’ll post a picture of a Christmas tree and go watch some cat videos.  Light activities for dark days!  Any hints for cheering yourself up in the winter weather are welcome!

A Need for Quiet and Repose

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADon’t get me wrong–I love Christmas, and New Year’s, and the whole holiday season.  I love being with friends and family.  I always travel to be with a part of my family at Christmas.  I have given a “holiday party” for anywhere from 12 to 28 people for the last 15 years.

But I also find this season exhausting, and sometimes melancholy.  I think of my parents who have died, the many aunts and uncles who are gone, and others I have loved and lost.  Holiday grief is not unusual.  Here’s a useful blog post (which I wrote) for my former employer, Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut, on the topic.

Sometimes it’s not even that.  It’s just exhaustion!  And sometimes, it’s just good to be at home.  Nights like tonight, when I am tired and still coughing from this blasted upper respiratory infection (2 weeks later!), it’s a wonderful thing to have the Christmas tree lit, and a comfy bed, and a good book.  I’ll even turn off Sunday Night Football and go to bed early with a book, the cat, and quiet.  I don’t need snow or carols.  I just need home.

So, as Tiny Tim said, God bless us every one!  Here’s to being snug and warm and loved.  And for those who aren’t, may God give you those graces in the new year.  And may the rest of us step up to make it happen, too.

Decorating the Tree

My mother had a yard sale at our house on the farm before she sold the house and moved to an apartment in town, some years after Daddy died.  She was tired and ill, and there was very little she held on to other than her clothes and her china and crystal.

I came to help out, and ended up hauling stuff back home with me that I couldn’t bear to be sold.  My sister Sherrie was there, and she spotted all the Christmas ornaments and lights, heaped on the ground.  Mother had kept the ornaments my sisters had given her, but had dumped all the balls and lights.

“Look at this,” Sherrie said.  “These lights are older than you are.”  She was right–I remembered them.  The bulbs were plastic or glass and shaped like birds or stars.  Sherrie always claimed the yellow bird sang to her from the top of the tree one Christmas.  I took the string, as well as a string of the original Bubble Lights.  Both strings were the kind that, if one bulb goes out, the string goes out, so you had go around the tree tightening and replacing bulbs until the string came back on again.

Those lights went to Atlanta with me, and then on to New York.  I haven’t used them for several years.  I bought one of those pre-lit artificial trees that looks more like a bottle brush than anything else a few years ago.  When I load it down with ornaments it doesn’t look too ghastly.

But this time of year I remember searching over the farm for a cedar tree without a fork in the top.  The first year after Daddy died, Mother and I went out into the fields with an ax, determined to have a Christmas no matter how awful we felt.  We found a big, lovely cedar, round and full.  It was all we could do to cut it down and drag it back to the house.

We put it in the garage and went to set it in a bucket of water so it could soak up some before it went in the tree stand.  The tree was about six inches too tall for the garage ceiling, which meant it was more than a foot too tall for the house.  Mother looked like she was going to burst into tears.

Then the phone rang.  Uncle Floyd called to see what was going on.  Mother told him our problem.  He showed up 15 minutes later and sawed off the bottom of the tree to the correct height.  So we had Christmas after all, using those bird lights, the Bubble Lights and all the other strings we had.