Fighting Christmas Depression II

19 Dec 2011

written by Carolyn


A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Fighting Christmas Depression.” I wrote the post just before Christmas 2008. Back then, I was depressed because my overly-entitled kids felt Christmas was only about racking up as many outrageously expensive presents as they could swindle me into buying for them. I spoke in the post about spending Christmas with my friend in Virginia, which we had done for several years. It turned out Christmas 2008 was the last time we did – for reasons I will explain later. The following year, Christmas 2009, was our first Christmas after my mom passed away in August 2009. Last year, Christmas 2010, I was just bummed in general. And this year? More of the same.

It’s time for me to admit I’ve never really liked Christmas. Christmas was more about food than presents when I was a kid. We only had one tree that I can remember – an artificial one we kids lovingly decorated the first time my father bothered to assemble it. Afterwards, the tree was stored in a closet in the attic, and I don’t remember if it was ever resurrected from that closet for any subsequent Christmases.

Tree or no tree, there weren’t many gifts. My parents didn’t have money to get the presents all six of us kids wanted. We always had gifts, but never exactly what we wanted. The real treat was Christmas dinner.

For two days straight, my mother would cook Christmas dinner: homemade cinnamon rolls, homemade dinner rolls, turkey, ham, dressing, baked macaroni and cheese, candied yams, apple pie, sweet potato pie, and three types of greens – collards, mustards and turnips. I’m leaving out the stuff I got less excited about – like the chitlins, hog maws and tripe she often made alongside everything else.

My mother would be so exhausted after all that cooking, she would sleep through most of Christmas Day. She would miss the accolades about her food from the random neighbors and family members who stopped for a plate. After everyone was gone, she would get up and make herself a small plate from whatever was left, put away the leftovers, and clean up the kitchen. When she finished, she would go back to bed and sleep for another twelve or so hours. My mother wouldn’t be fully rested again until a couple of days after Christmas.

I don’t have the energy, spirit or desire to create a special Christmas tradition for my own kids. My ex and I made half-hearted efforts, but we were so unhappy together that it was hard to pretend otherwise for the holidays. For about five years, my friend C opened her home in Virginia to my children and me for Christmas. C is really into Christmas, and it was a good way for my kids to enjoy Christmas traditions from someone who had much more holiday spirit than I ever did.

That short-lived tradition ended with Christmas 2008.

In 2008, I had lost a good deal of weight. I was finally beginning to feel whole after my divorce and, according to C, was starting to look “good” again. C is a beautiful woman – a  size 4 yoganista and healthful eater who easily looks 10 years younger than her age. At that point, C and I had known each other for about 18 years. She had no reason to feel threatened by me on any level. But she had just reconciled with her philandering husband, and decided an attractive houseguest was too much temptation for him.

“I won’t be able to have you back here for Christmas,” she told me as I was packing up our car to drive back to New York. After some stalling, she finally told me the real reason my standing invitation to join her for Christmas was being revoked.

“You’ve lost a lot of weight, and I’m reminded my husband hit on you once,” she told me.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Yes, he did,” I replied. He had – years prior, during one of their many previous separations. “That was – what? More than fifteen years ago? And I told you right after he did.”

She acknowledged I had behaved exactly as one would have expected a friend to behave in that situation. The husband told his wife I hadn’t entertained his offer for even one second. But she chose her husband over our friendship. I’m still not sure it was necessary for her to choose, but she did. I was heartbroken, but it was her choice to make.

That was three years ago. I have spoken to her only once since then. Nine months after Christmas 2008, I called her in August 2009 to tell her my mom passed. She sent my family a lovely HoneyBaked Ham for the post-funeral repast. I thanked her. We haven’t spoken since. I won’t say we’ll never speak again. I won’t even say our friendship is irreparably broken. I can say for sure that it will never be what it once was.

And so this is Christmas. Another year without my mother. Another year – year number 19 – in which none of my Detroit family offered to come to New York to spend the holidays with us and spare us the travel burden and expense. My beau is spending the holidays with his family, without us. I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I don’t want to be part of someone else’s holiday traditions. Been there, done that, and not doing it again anytime soon.

This year, I bought the kids the gifts they asked for, right in front of them. They’ve already opened them. We won’t bother wrapping those gifts for Christmas Day. I haven’t wrapped a gift since 2008. I don’t even have the energy to put together a holiday meal menu. Perhaps I’ll spend the week finding a place that is still taking Christmas dinner reservations. Or not.

Next year, I’m spending Christmas outside the country – preferably someplace where Christmas isn’t celebrated. Maybe if I’m removed from all the hype and all the reminders of my own heartbreak, I’ll appreciate Christmas more.

5 Comments on Fighting Christmas Depression II

  1. Margaret

    Too bad that your friend made that decision & I know how it is when family expects you and the kids to travel for the holidays.

    Since moving back to the US in 2006, my plan is to spend every 3rd year abroad for Christmas. In 2009 we were in Hawaii for the holidays. I am now researching locations for Christmas 2012.

  2. NS

    I am sorry your friend let you down. My family celebrated Christmases with presents, decorations, and dinner. I too have always felt a bit let down by Christmas as an adult. I hope you do find a way to have a little fun this Christmas, but remember, it’s just a day. I also hope you go to some great place next year & have a terrific time.

  3. Mark Robinson

    It makes me sad that Christmas has been a magnet for unhappy memories for you. It is understandable that your association to the holiday is primarily negative. But every magnet has two sides and it is possible to redeem Christmas in your head and in your heart. You love your children and they love you. Create “new traditions” that are centered on the things that make you happy today, new traditions that are less about being mile markers of the journey you have travelled, but are more focused on the optimistic journey ahead.

    I don’t believe that Christmas is “just a day” because I don’t believe that ANY day is just a day. Brushes with death have taught me that every day is special and that “special” days serve as a legitimate excuse to embrace the specialness of every day. (Does that make any sense?) I never pass up a tasty hors d’oeuvres when its presented to me on a tray and I never pass up the opportunity to find a reason to smile and be happy whenever possible.

    The way that you choose to celebrate these holidays does not need to conform to anyone else’s practice or definition, but it should (I believe) embrace in your own individual way the concept and spirit of “celebration.” And to that end, there should definitely be an aspect of ceremony to the occasion. That plus the love that I know is unquestionably in your heart is, I believe, the essential recipe for creating new, happy memories for you and most definitely for your children.

    My Christmas wish for you is that you unwrap the secret to healing your own heart.

  4. Mark Robinson

    I was thinking about your friend and her husband. Although she has taken him back in the physical or practical sense, she has not forgiven him. If she had, she would not have pushed you away. And so, whatever else they might have together, they don’t have love and they don’t have happiness. And so, during those moments when your friend is self-aware and recognizes those things she does not have, (tho she might fight hard to suppress them) she undoubtedly regrets her decision and misses you terribly.

  5. Carolyn

    Appreciate your comments. I too hope that I make peace with this time of the year and find a more positive association with this holiday season. As for my (former) friend, I hope she has found forgiveness and peace as well.

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