Posted in Christmas Eve, Holidays, random thoughts

I’ve Lost That Christmas Spirit

Or maybe I found it.

Most folks probably know I’ve been out of work for the majority of this year, and that hasn’t changed. I had some promising interviews with Large Company that will not be named, but has so far come to nothing, so I’m still looking. Not sure if they’re ghosting me, or postponing the hiring process until after the holidays or what. Anyway, on we go.

I saw a tweet this morning of someone asking to be hit in the head with the “Christmas spirit” already, clearly not feeling the joy. I can relate. It’s actually been many years since I felt that special joy that is supposed to magically appear in December. Even with my own grown children, they take such a different approach to the holiday that it doesn’t do much to lift my mood. My younger son and his family aren’t even putting up a tree this year, first year in their own home, which even to me is almost incomprehensible. I hauled my artificial tree up out of the basement and decorated it by myself. I put out my little Christmas village of tea light holders, and so on. I don’t know why, since no one comes over and it’s just me and the cat in the house now. But I realized it cheers me just to see the pretty decorations.

I even made this little quilted wall hanging

But the biggest change this year, courtesy of my employment (or rather, lack of) situation is that I’m not giving any gifts. Can’t do it this year.

And you know what? It has destressed the season for me beyond belief. Occasionally I feel a momentary twinge of panic that I haven’t bought any gifts, but it soon passes and I go back to listening to the Christmas music on the radio and relaxing. I still have some baking to do, I promised pie and dinner rolls for dinner at my older son’s house. With the whole notion of gift-giving off the table, so to speak, I feel like it’s put everything in perspective and in its proper place. It’s not that I don’t enjoy giving gifts, but it’s not the end of the world that I can’t indulge the family this time around. If you’re in the same boat, I hope it won’t ruin the season for you entirely.

Wishing everyone a peaceful holiday season, and many blessings in the new year.

Posted in Christmas Eve, Holidays

Christmas Sweet and Bitter

One of my favorite memories is my whole family together on Christmas Eve, trimming the tree together. My mother was born in Norway, and the tradition (at least in those days) was to put the tree up on Christmas Eve, so somehow she convinced Dad to go along with it). To help set the mood, Dad would get the reel-to-reel tape player set up with what I suppose was the one and only Christmas music reel we had. I don’t know how he made it, if he taped it off the radio or some LPs that we owned. This was the 1960s, after all. I remember the house we were living in then, a large old farmhouse in Massachusetts where we lived when Dad was involved in working on the Apollo space missions, and the same living room where we all gathered to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. What a house that was. I still miss it.

Once the tree was placed in the stand, centered and straight and watered, Dad would string the lights, those enormous old C9 bulbs. Then my sisters and I would begin hanging the ornaments as high as we could reach. Dad did the top of the tree. I remember him singing “O Tannenbaum” in decent baritone as he reached to place ornaments on the branches. Once all the ornaments were in place, the tinsel went on. I love tinsel. I think it gives the tree a more magical, fairy-tale appearance than big bushy garlands. I don’t think anyone uses it anymore, though. I don’t dare now with my cats.

Both of my parents have been gone for a long time (Dad in 1983, Mom in 2006), so holidays have long been a bittersweet time for me. When I had my own children I tried to keep that festive family spirit alive. We were living on the opposite side of the country with no other family close by so it was all on me. In the last few years I’ve become estranged from the last of my sisters (I have four) who are all on the opposite coast anyway. It’s one reason I’ve chosen to stay on the west coast.

So, I listen to the old music and the classical Christmas music that my dad loved so much, and think of my mom whenever I hear her favorite, “Silver Bells.” The music helps me connect to happier times in a way that nothing else does. Maybe I spend too much time looking backwards. It’s a kind of homesickness, I think. As they say, you can never go home again.

That’s me on my mother’s lap, with Dad and 3 of my sisters (the youngest not born yet). The fireplace behind us had a door in the bottom that you could sweep the ashes into, down a chute to a clean-out in the basement. I assume it was to keep the ashes from getting all over the living room when the servants cleaned it out back in ye olden days. The house was built around 1850.

Posted in Christmas Eve, Holidays, writing

Welcoming the Doldrums

Now that the holidays are over, we coast into the doldrums of January, February, and March, that long stretch with no holidays or long weekends (well, some of you get Presidents Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) that feel like they go on for six months, rather than three. Spring break looms for those with kids. For those without, life will go on pretty much as usual.

And I’m so there for it.

I have a complicated relationship with the end-of-year holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. There’s a melancholy to them threading through the mirth. People who had happy childhoods have unhappy adulthoods, forever trying to recapture the joy of those happier years.

I had a large-ish family: Mom, Dad, and four sisters. In general, Christmas was a magical time, as indeed all of winter was for me. What child doesn’t love playing in the snow? And we got a lot of it. Holidays in our home were exciting and fun, even though for most of my childhood years we were quite poor. Mostly I remember Christmas lights glowing warmly on snowy evenings, electric candles in each window of the house. In those days nobody was doing those garish, hideous displays with tens of thousands of lights, trying to rival Disney’s Electrical Parade. There was one house in town that put up a homemade animated tableaus of large, 3-foot-tall elf dolls in working ski lifts, riding around on a carousel (elf-sized), working in Santa’s workshop, and all manner of things. It was a wonder, and it was charming. People came from all over to see it. It was written up in the local paper year after year.

But mostly I remember the warmth of Christmas, a child’s memories of it as magic. We always decorated the tree as a family on Christmas Eve (a tradition of my mother’s Norwegian upbringing), my dad singing “O Tannenbaum” in his baritone voice as he put tinsel and ornaments on the branches my sisters and I were too small to reach; Dad pulling out the old reel-to-reel tape player and cueing up the Christmas music. I will forever associate “The Troika” with my dad. One night when putting the youngest 3 of us to bed, my second-eldest sister (who has an incredible voice) sang “Silent Night”. Even then it made me cry.

I have moments when the music helps. My local classical music station does a 4-day “Festival of Carols” full of ancient music, familiar tunes done well, carols from around the world (the Finnish are some of my favorites), and it’s just glorious to listen to. Shame it’s only 4 days on the regular broadcast frequency (they have a new HD station that starts earlier, but I don’t have an HD radio). Now even the music has lost its spell. It’s been the one thing I’ve looked forward to over the years, the main thing that I could take solace in now that both of my parents are long dead, I’m estranged from most of my sisters, and all my aunts and uncles are gone. I’ve spent many Christmas Eves alone, put up and decorated trees by myself, because even though there was no one else to do it with, it was still a link to those happy days. This year the tree was put up without me, and taken down without me.

Christmas lights no longer cheer me; in fact they leave me cold. Maybe they’re just too pre-packaged and processed for my taste (don’t get me started on the inflatables). As I writer this, there are still a few folks who have their lights up and on even now, after the new year. I see them as I drive to work in the morning, and come home at night. The season just seems to have moved so far away from the gentle family celebration it once was I start to wonder if we’ve simply outgrown the spirit of it in the 21st century. It feels like if you didn’t get a new car for Christmas you’re doing it wrong. Maybe I just want to be a child again. I miss my mom and dad so much, even after all these years. There’s so much family drama and stress now, and most family traditions have gone by the wayside.

So I, at least, am glad the holidays are over, and I welcome the looming doldrums.

Posted in Christmas Eve, Holidays, suicide prevention

Survive the Holidays

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer on Christmas Eve when everyone just wants to party and have a good time, but I hope everyone can spare a thought for those who may be alone. I’ve spent more than one Christmas Eve alone (and other holidays, but we’ll skip that for now) and let me tell you, it is no fun, no matter how hard you try not to think about it, or distract yourself with movies or other things. Knowing that most people are cozied up with family and friends while you’re alone hurts. No one ever thinks to invite single friends over at Christmas, so we spend a lot of holidays alone.

If you are alone, and feel like you can’t handle it, please call someone. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US is 1-800-273-8255.

If you’re in the UK, here is a page of resources:

Here’s a page with links for Ireland, Scotland, and Wales:

Ireland (toll free)  Call 116 123

Scotland and Wales:  08457 90 90 90

Wikipedia has a list of others.

If nothing else, find a church having a Christmas Eve service and go. You’ll be around people even if you’re not a churching type.

If you’re hanging out online, you can probably catch me on Twitter @ddsyrdal . I expect to be online most of the evening, as I usually am. I’m so used to being on my own on holidays I have no special plans or annual traditions for this night. I know how holidays magnify the loneliness and sense of isolation. I’m told I’m a good listener, but know I’m not a trained counselor.

Also know very few people have the fictional perfect Brady Bunch family (most of those kids were and are pretty dysfunctional). Some do, but plenty of people lie about it to keep up appearances. You’re not a freak, and you deserve to be happy.