Magic happened every night when our Christmas tree was lit up. Looking at the lights on the tree, the reflection of the ornaments, I saw into the possibilities. The anticipation of what would be. I remember the gifts, all carefully wrapped. We expressed our connection via what we gave to each other.
Christmas was our way to create and express something we didn’t do the rest of the year. We weren’t a huggy family, and I rarely remember hearing the words, ‘I love you.” It’s not that we didn’t feel it. We were a family that didn’t say what we wanted or needed, emotionally anyway. Back then it felt normal. Now it feels like we had to read each other’s minds. There was a lot of pressure and big expectations put into this one day.
With Christmas, I wasn’t forgotten.
I remember in 5th grade, when the cool kids all started to wear jeans, one of my gifts was a pair of navy-blue stretchy pants. It took a lot of courage for me to tell my mother that I really wanted a pair of jeans. It was as if my telling her signified something much bigger than it was, beyond not liking my gift. I was speaking up for myself.
In my early years, I had the perpetual question that ran through me, “what about me?” Christmas resolved this, even if for a short period of time. It showed to me that I mattered, I knew people were thinking about me, in times when I felt otherwise completely invisible.
My first few years on my own, I would start shopping for people in late summer / early fall. In my heart and mind, when I was thinking about them, they were thinking about me. I didn’t feel alone.
I loved to walk down to Faneuil Hall to shop in the stores, and take in the lights and decorations. It filled my heart. When I was picking out a present, I felt a connection with the other person. I anticipated their reaction in opening their gift, so thoughtfully chosen.
Gifts were a way to maintain connection. A connection that might have fallen away otherwise. When I heard through the grapevine that an immediate family member no longer wanted to exchange gifts, my heart skipped a beat and it brought up a myriad of emotions: rejection, sadness, anger. I took it personally for a while. It makes more sense now, knowing it had more to do with the other person than me.
I married two people, both of whom proposed on Christmas Eve.
What better gift could there be, than to say yes to a commitment with another, to create something, a life, together? Saying yes to the possibilities before you. I would find out that neither had my same feelings about Christmas, only discovered once we were fully in.
My first husband was the master of Christmas Eve shopping. Proud of it actually. He didn’t play into the event that I and so many of us create out of it. One year I’d expressed a desire for sweat pants, a flannel shirt, slippers. Comfy clothes to wear around the house. When I opened my gifts, the theme was pink.
Everything. Was. Pink.
I wore them together only once and the look on my friends face when she stopped by said everything. I looked like a walking piece of Bazooka bubble gum.
With my first, Christmas became a burden. Putting up a tree, decorating, cooking, I took it all on. It didn’t get done otherwise. One year, I gave him the ultimatum that if he didn’t help buy the tree we wouldn’t have one. Well, we know what happens with ultimatums. There was no tree that year and I pretended I didn’t care.
The year after our divorce, I wanted to be with family, now that my more immediate one was no longer. Four grown adults together who really didn’t know each other, other than our experiences from growing up. It was awkward. The energies that weren’t healed, simmered just beneath the surface, and invisibly informed our actions, reactions, and conversations. There was a lot that wasn’t said.
With my second husband, I anticipated with delight the gift I was going to receive our first Christmas as a married couple.
I. Received. Nothing.
I remember my distraught at feeling completely overlooked. He tried to console me and I was having none of it. My heart felt broken. “How could you not buy me a gift on our first Christmas together?” I called a friend, who was going out shopping. When her friend picked us up and I expressed my upset. Her response? “Well, my husband never gets me anything either.” I was shocked at her vehement reply, and in how quickly I was shut down. Why would we ever tolerate this?
A few days later the response from my husband was, “every day is Christmas.” I thought it was pure B.S. Yet there’s also a brilliance in this. When you show a loved one throughout the year how and what they mean to you, then you don’t need to make a big event out of one day. But it’s in the showing, and allowing ourselves to be with each other that matters. The natural state of giving and receiving.
As kids, we would make ridiculously long lists of what we wanted. It was like a land grab of every gift we could think of, added to it the things we saw on the TV ads. You could almost time the additions to the list. Ridiculously long, we were told to put our favorites at the top. Just so “Santa” would know.
In my younger years, I never understood the answer of, “I don’t know, I have everything I need,” from the adults in my life. How could you not want or need anything? As an adult, I understand this now, on a level that goes well beyond the physical gift.
Christmas, for me, has been a catalyst.
For many years, I got sick at Christmas time and invariably cancelled New Year’s Eve plans. I finally made the connection to the internalized energies, the feelings of abandonment, and the expectations I’d created for myself to only be let down. With the awareness of the trail of breadcrumbs, I was able to see it all and let it go.
Going through this journey of growing up and knowing ourselves on one level, we have these external influences that separate us from ourselves. Our expectations further create the separation that we’re trying so hard to eliminate. Mind did, anyway.
Rather than sitting in the question and energy of “what about me?” and looking outside of myself, I took the question inward.
Instead of waiting for one day of the year to express myself, and all of the pressure that comes with it, what do I want to create and express today? Love is immeasurable and something that can be shared every day.
Gratitude from the mind is a very logical expression, and will never match gratitude from the heart. There’s a flow that happens when you express yourself from the latter. One that may be hard to measure, yet it’s unmistakable when it’s there. The expenditure of your energy is natural, and the push falls away.
A Course in Miracles tells us that everything has the meaning you give to it. Christmas is a thing to which we’ve created visible and invisible attachments. You relate in the way you were taught. There are beautiful aspects with this day, but we as a society use it as a tool to create something else, something that can be so big you don’t know how to live up to it. The beauty’s been diminished.
It wasn’t ever meant to be about sacrifice.
It validated in me that people cared. Validation that was always waiting to come from within. That I matter, no matter what. So, do you. “What about me” becomes a very different exploration.
When I look at the lights now, I still see the possibilities, but they’re in how I’m living, without the expectations I created from the energy of my childhood. I no longer love nor hate Christmas. It’s a day. A day in which I get to participate in a way that resonates with my heart.
We can experience Christmas as one of deeper connection, without the pressure, attachments or expectations. To be present in the joy of the day.
The exchange of gifts meant so much because I wasn’t seeing myself. Nor did I see myself as a gift. When you don’t allow yourself to be seen, when it doesn’t feel safe, how can people really know who you are? Once I disconnected from the old stories, I was able to shine a light on the person underneath.
When you have awareness and release the old stories, you can accept things for what they are, and with the open space step into a deeper relationship with self. To no longer look for the acknowledgment from another.
Imagine being your own gift. What would you like to give to yourself this year?