By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
The holidays are a time for celebration and reflection. I grew up in a somewhat larger family with four sisters, two sets of parents and loads of aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In our family, the holidays were full of traditions – festive dinners, the Nutcracker, Christmas tree rituals, presents, the obligatory Christmas Eve church service and the reading of “The Night before Christmas” on Christmas Eve before bedtime. Despite our typical family dysfunction that I’ve come to believe is actually quite the norm nowadays in our culture; the holidays still bring fond memories of laughter and love. No matter what family drama happened throughout the year, we always managed to gather over the holidays and celebrate being together.
A few years ago both my father and mother passed away. It’s always challenging to try and explain the suffering and loneliness that occurs when a parent dies. I can definitely say from my own experience initially it’s like a piercing of your heart and soul that creates intense seemingly never-ending pain. Eventually over the years, however, it morphs into a dull, melancholy heartache that ebbs and flows in intensity based on anniversaries and other yearly reminders of their absence. Honestly the first couple Thanksgivings and Christmases without them I just wanted it all to be over. Being someone who traditionally loves the holiday season, wanting it all to just end added to the depressing nature of it all.
But time is an amazing healer. Yes the holidays for me are now bitter-sweet. Yes despite whatever joy I’m experiencing there does seem to always be this shadow of sadness, a longing to share touching or humorous holiday moments with them. But on the other hand, the joyful holiday memories my parents created throughout my childhood live on. I still get giddy when heading out to cut down the Christmas tree and love gathering with family and friends, singing Christmas carols and walking down Peacock Lane with friends and loved ones sipping hot cocoa – all sorts of wonderful holiday moments that continue.
There is also a bigger sense of appreciation that only comes out of such great loss. I savor the moments with friends and family more now and try to not take them for granted, especially around the holidays. I know full well how precious life is. At some point things will change – it’s just the natural way of the world. I could resist and fight it – as I often have in the past to no avail – or use it as a beacon for the living in the now. So it’s brought forth a fantastic sense of living in the moment, being more at ease with the changes life brings and taking in every second I am able to have with loved ones.
No matter what a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs, the holidays are a time we embrace those we love. It’s a time to celebrate all we have and reach out to those in need. Holidays bring out the best in us – our kindness, compassion and generosity – and remind us how interconnected we all are to one another and our planet. In the time of year when our days are shorter and darker, the holidays give us hope and remind us that there is always goodness in each of us and always light if you look for it.
One of my holiday staples each year is watching It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Each one of these classics carries the message of hope, love and what to me is ultimately the most important part of holiday celebration – embracing friends and loved ones still in our lives and remembering those we’ve lost. The final words from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas sums up nicely how I feel.
“Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer.
Cheer to all Whos far and near.
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp.
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.
Welcome Christmas, while we stand
Heart to heart, and hand in hand.” Dr. ‘Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ 1966