Since I was a little girl, Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. The snow, the carols, the baking, the frenetic but happy energy that filled the season. I loved it all. The day after Thanksgiving I'd start watching "White Christmas" and wouldn't stop until someone else turned it off, or Christmas was over-whichever came first. My car radio played holiday music the entire month. For over ten years, my best friend and I spent December 22nd filling the house with as many baked goods as possible. Christmas Eve was always at my aunt and uncle's, filled with laughter, food and family. Christmas Day was cozy, just my family. Stockings in the morning, followed by presents, breakfast and a day spent together in the quiet of home. Traditions. Ritual. Love. I loved the holidays. Throughout the rest of the year I'm amenable to change but Christmas--well some of those traditions are 30 odd years in the making and frankly I'm loathe to let them go. But if there's one thing I know, it's that change is inevitable, no matter how much you love whatever is slipping away. And life has a funny way of moving forward, even when you desperately try to pull it back to what you know.
This year, I found my life moving forward in many unexpected ways. And despite my best intentions, I've been incredibly sad this season, and really just ready for it to be over. I suppose, in a way, that makes me more sad than anything--that I've somehow lost the joy I've always had this time of year. Nothing shines the way it used to, everything feels forced and the magic is gone.
I stopped believing in Santa when I was about ten years old. Having a younger brother and sister, I never let on, but I knew my parents were behind the presents that magically appeared Christmas morning. When I was fifteen I desperately, desperately wanted my own telephone, for my room. That's it. A phone. That's all I wanted. I wanted it BAD. I'd asked for my birthday, no phone. My parents continued to say no, said no for as long as I'd asked, but I asked anyway. I asked "Santa" for a phone. I knew it wouldn't happen, but a girl could hope.
Christmas morning I opened my very last present and when I had peeled all the paper away, I screamed. A phone. My mom looked aghast and my dad shook his head. I ran over and threw myself at them, "thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou" I squealed. My mom looked at me, with the kind of seriousness in her eyes that always meant listen up, and said, "It wasn't us." I gave her my best teenage smirk and said, "Yeah, right." She shook her head, "No, we did not give you that phone." I looked at her and for a moment, couldn't help but believe, just a little bit. Deep down I knew where it had come from but a tiny part of me began to believe in the magic of Christmas again.
It wasn't about believing in a big guy with a white beard who travelled with a herd of unruly reindeer and a sack of gifts--it was about believing in the power of hope.
And it's sad and not something I readily admit, but over the last few years I've lost a lot of my hope. It's slowly drained away with the reality of life and living and I've struggled to get it back. This Christmas I find myself alone. A six year relationship with the person I thought I'd spend the rest of my life with, over. A master's degree to my name, teaching yoga. I am not where I thought or hoped I'd be in my life and reconciling that fact has been extraordinarily difficult and humbling.
So I've moved through the month ignoring the season, a difficult task as an assistant director for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." I'd go home from rehearsal pissed about all the holiday songs I had stuck in my head. Angry that I couldn't for the life of my get into the spirit. But nothing appealed to me. Not baking cookies, or watching "White Christmas," not holiday shopping or carols or parties, nothing. I couldn't find my joy for the holidays. I had no idea how to be merry this Christmas.
And then two things happened.
I went with my family to see "Grinch." Even though I'd seen it a thousand times, and had never successfully removed my artistic hat long enough to enjoy the show without a critical eye, I went with the hope that I'd catch some holiday spirit.
At one point during the show, I shifted my attention away from the stage to the audience. Packed full of children and their families, one little girl caught my eye. She was about six or seven and she stood, stock still, in front of her dad's seat. So captivated was she that she didn't move the entirety of the show, just stood staring at the stage. In that moment I remembered being four years old and seeing "The Nutcracker" during Christmas. Like this little girl, I had been transfixed by the performance, unmoving in my seat, and that was when I knew what I wanted from my life.
I thought about where I was and where I thought I should be and then looked at the little girl again. The voice within that had been growing louder as I struggled to find jobs in my field and hustled day to day to pay my bills, that had been nagging me to give up the ghost and be a responsible adult was suddenly quiet. I realized, I wasn't any different than that little girl--both of us were captivated by the magic of theatre--she just hadn't lost her hope, she still had every reason to believe that anything was possible.
And then, last weekend, in a bar in St. Paul, I was struck again. Sitting with two of my best friends in a tiny room, we listened to a prominent local singer perform a holiday show. Had I known it was a holiday show, I probably wouldn't have gone. But there I was, muscling my way through the sing-along of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, still numb, still not feeling any holiday cheer.
Then she sang "O Holy Night." And though I've heard the song a million times and though I'm not religious, I really listened to the words for the first time.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining, It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! O night divine, the night when Christ was born; O night, O Holy Night , O night divine! O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming, With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming, Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land. The King of kings lay thus lowly manger; In all our trials born to be our friends. He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger, Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, With all our hearts we praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we, His power and glory ever more proclaim! His power and glory ever more proclaim!
I began to cry. Because I'd never heard the other two verses. Because there was something about her voice and the words she was singing that pierced that numbness in which I'd been living. And I thought about all the times in the last year I'd fallen to my knees, my body no longer willing to support the pain or exhaustion that filled me. Fallen to my knees and prayed, frantically, fervently--a ritual largely lost on me, now the only thing I could think to do. I prayed for what the song so aptly says, for my soul to once again feel worth. To rise out of my weariness and find reason to rejoice.
Suddenly, it was all there in this song, in her voice, in the moment. I could feel it. Hope. Just a little bit, but enough to believe again.
And now I see, it's not about Christmas cards and cookies, carols and presents. It's about what all those things represent. Love, peace on earth, goodwill to all and hope for the future. Hope that a divine winter night will bring a new, glorious morn. And it will. If you can just believe.
Believe. Hope. Be Merry.