When Christmas isn’t joyful.

A week or so ago I was running some errands, the final stop, to buy some wine for an upcoming dinner party.  In happy contemplation of a lovely evening to come, I was lost in pleasant thoughts trying to decide between red or white.

Then it happened.  As when one is sleeping and outside noises infringe on ones dreamy bliss, something was gnawing at my subconscious slowly sucking away the positive feelings forcing my mind to the present.

Christmas music – in the middle of November.

I don’t want to dread the holidays, but I do, and I wonder how many other people feel the same way.

There is, of course,  the underlying sadness at missing Stefanie so dearly during the Christmas season, but it’s not only that.

James and I started feeling physically ill at the number of gifts our children were receiving.  We didn’t want to deny them the magical memories of Christmas but we also wanted them to experience the beauty in giving rather than receiving.

In our family, each parent is responsible for buying the gifts from the aunts/uncles and grandma/grandpa for their own children to ensure everyone’s sanity.  Luckily I have a sister who is an accountant and she works her magic and lets everyone know who owes who in the end – spreadsheet and all!  From someone who considers any math “higher math”, it’s amazing.

Since Stefanie’s death,  I’ve needed to find a way to lessen the weight of Christmas and come up with a plan to help us heal, so we started a new family tradition.  Admittedly, it wasn’t warmly received at first, but that’s changed.

With money from relatives, our children can now work together and get something large for their chosen charity, or do something individually.  The first year was a foster child, last year they pooled their money and bought a well for a village, and this year they will give individually to “Smile Train”, an organization which provides surgery for children with cleft lip or cleft palate who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

It’s amazing to watch them debate over who will get the money.  Last year, as we leafed through the gift magazine of one particular charity, they decided that the most basic need for people was water.  They looked at all the gifts that help bring water to a village (i.e.  bicycles for transporting the water), weighing each one carefully but decided that pooling their money was the most effective way to help.

It wasn’t easy at first to convince them that this was the right thing to do, especially as they would lose bragging rights with their friends about all the gifts they received.  When we first started this, Patrick (all of 3) thought that he would give away the gifts he liked the least.   Needless to say, he’s come a long way since then.

But we’re now in our 3rd year – hard to believe it’s been 3 years  – and as the sadness of the season still lingers, I try to focus on the good that is being done by so many people in the world, especially at this time of year.

There are many people who are suffering (not only at Christmas), but somehow because the season is supposed to be joyful, their struggles are magnified.   People who are lonely, hospitalized, in seniors homes – the list is endless.  The suicide rate spikes, the calls for domestic incidents increase, and those of us who feel cheated and robbed of our most precious loved ones fight tooth and nail to smile for those around us.

I need to remind myself that if it weren’t for Christmas, many people would not take the time to give thanks and help others.  It is, in giving thanks and giving of ourselves for others, that we heal and can have abundant joy.

Today I made my first Christmas purchases and I did so feeling relieved that I started the dreaded shopping.  Luckily for me, today at least, there wasn’t any Christmas music!

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