Last year my husband took ill just before Thanksgiving. He was out of work for about 10 weeks with severe damage to his inner ear. It came on suddenly, knocked him on his back and kept him there. I had a 15-month-old, a full time job and it was the holiday season. Thanksgiving was the biggest problem as he took ill within a week of the big day. We adapted, our family and friends rallied round us and we made it through.
For Christmas, I decided to get a table top tree since we couldn’t go and chop one down. I thought it would be easier to handle by myself. The thought of it depressed me and seemed to represent the way we would spend Christmas; reduced, diminished and not quite as holly jolly as usual. So I made a decision. I was not going to let one setback, no matter how serious, affect anyone’s enjoyment of Christmas. I called my father-in-law and quick as a flash we had the biggest tree we could find; we had to chop the top off for it to fit in the house!
Every day I made a conscious effort to celebrate. I knitted in Christmas colors while watching Christmas movies, I lit the advent candle each night, I wore something festive everyday in December. It was magical, and after about a week it was no longer an effort, it just came naturally. Some years these are tactics that I have to employ anyway to kick the holiday season into gear. Last year it was survival and I used every method I could to get festive for my own sanity and for my 1-year-old son. I’m sure he won’t remember last year; he won’t recall if it was good or bad, but I will. When I look at our pictures from last Christmas, I don’t see a family torn apart by illness, I see one brought together by the magic of this time of year.
I recently read a truly awful novel about Christmas, truly awful, but one good thing I took from it was the difference between illusion and magic, between the things that appear magical that we can explain, and those that appear magical that we can’t. Last year we experienced both, and I stopped caring about where the line was. If you find yourself struggling to celebrate this year, whether you are alone or with family, here are my tips from our Christmas in the trenches:
- Make cookies. This is a cookie time of year no matter what anyone says. You can follow the recipe on the package, make cut outs with extravagant piping or you can contact me for the ultimate cookie recipe – it involves Andes Candies – but make cookies this year. Sharing them makes it even better.
- Wear something festive every day, even if it’s just a pin on your jacket. Looking down and seeing a wreath pin or a bright red shirt is a nice reminder.
- Start an advent tradition. You can light a candle each day, pop a piece of candy from a calendar or make your own tradition. Lego make a number of advent calendarsthat are great for kids of all ages.
- Forget about catching up on the DVR and watch a holiday movie. Pull out the VHS of the Star Wars Christmas Special, dig out Home Alone. Watch something that only gets watched at this time of year. For that added dash of peace try sitting down and watching it instead of just multi tasking through it.
- For me, the holiday season is an especially crafty season. Learn something new this year if you don’t have a craft instantly at hand. You can be adventurous, a santa hat or a snowman takes very little time to crochet. Or you can be simple and make paper chains to hang around the house. If you aren’t crafty, the stores are full of premade kits at this time of year, all you do is follow the instructions and voila, instant cheer.
- Get a tree! Whatever size your home and budget can accommodate, the sight of this tree every morning will lift your spirits. All you need are lights in my opinion. If you have a fake one, get a scented candle to go with it and create that pine fresh scent.
- Take advantage of technology. My parents live in England, we live in Maine. Last year we each bought a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and my dad read the story to Toby via webcam, while Toby looked at the pictures in his book.
Do any or all of the above with family, friends or a neighbor you barely know. People make the holidays so much better, whether they are the people you would prefer to be with or not!