I created this blog for several reasons, one of them was to develop my writing style. To accomplish this I committed to a few rules, including to be wholly honest and transparent. I felt that this stipulation was necessary to give validation to what I was writing. Unfortunately, I have been only partially successful in meeting this goal.
I am honest when I write about my past, my fears, my ideas, my successes, my failures, and just about anything related to me. However, I have been conscious to not write about situations that those close to me may find awkward. I made this modification early on when I wrote something about a family member and was told, “You embarrassed me.” That event brought back memories of Erma Bombeck, a newspaper columnist from my youth who wrote a hilarious column that often featured the antics of her children. Decades later I found out that her writings caused her kids untold grief as they hated having their exaggerated dirty laundry aired to their neighbors, teachers, and peers.
I am able to see both the good and bad in people and situations, but my nature is to focus on the positive. Some have accused me of being too Pollyanna-ish, but this is just who I am. I had a concern that my more positive view of this holiday season could be upsetting to some readers who felt punished during this time. I don’t want to be the guy who is rubbing joy into someone else’s face. Should I not write about Christmas because it might be a “trigger” for someone? Editors note: I really am starting to hate the word trigger, and its overuse… but here I am using it myself.
I know Christmas was difficult for many, as most normal get-togethers had to be shelved. The same can be said for my family as we had to forgo a variety of celebrations on both sides. Despite these losses, I enjoyed Christmas a lot.
In many ways I am privileged. I’m retired and have a retirement income, most of my kids were home for the holiday, and I am generally healthy. I’m sure these factors impacted my Christmas experience. Could being truthful hurt some of my readers who have less?
After weighing all points I decided to write about my Christmas. Why? Because I understand that the way that we think about a situation has a direct impact on how we experience that situation. This is an important rule that is worth writing about.
One theme that I have repeated in my blog posts is that events and situations are neither good nor bad, they just “are.” As you read this some of you are thinking of exceptions, and are likely muttering something like, “How can you say that the coronavirus is neither good nor bad? Millions have become sick and hundreds of thousands are dead!” You would be correct in your assertion that this virus has inflicted terrible consequences on our world. However, its total effect won’t be known for decades. Believe it or not, some positive may result from this plague. It is possible that the lessons that we have learned from this pandemic will save us from an even more deadly one in the future. -Sadly, there will be more pandemics.
Back to Christmas.
Here are some of the things that I chose to view as negative:
I missed not seeing my close family, friends, and relatives.
Here are some things that I chose to view as positive:
I didn’t have to travel long distances in terrible weather conditions. I have had to make many white knuckle drives during whiteouts and blizzards to attend past Christmas get-togethers.
How did I redesign Christmas for 2020?
There are many unrealistic expectations around Christmas. Is it any surprise that so many are stressed before Christmas and disappointed afterwards? My goal was to extract what my family found significant and to focus on those events. I used a broad strokes approach instead of trying to micromanage everyone’s individual experience.
There are general themes that we focus on at Christmas time.
The reason for the season-
As Christians we use December 25th as a day to honor the birth of Jesus.
We don’t have a showplace Christmas house. In fact, our decorations are a bit on the soft side. We decorate our living room and family room. In recent years I have backed away from doing a lot of outside decorations-I hate taking the stuff down in the bitter cold.
The most significant holiday artifact is our Christmas tree. It is an old artificial one, that seems to lose more “needles” than real trees do. However, we love putting on the tree’s decorations as they all have significance to us. Many ornaments were given as gifts, while others were made by our kids in preschool and grade school. Each placement feels like a little visit with an old friend.
Food is a major part of any celebration. We usually have our main meal on Christmas Eve. This year I was chief cook and decided to make a beef tenderloin, tossed salad, glazed carrots, scalloped potatoes, and freshly baked yeast rolls. Julie acted as my assistant, easing my responsibility. I was terrified that I would ruin the tenderloin, as its overall cost was akin to a small mortgage payment. Thankfully the meal turned out great.
Traditionally Julie makes a brunch on Christmas Day which always includes an egg casserole dish which we refer to as “egg dish.” It is a combination of eggs, bread, ham, and cheese that is prepared the night before to allow everything to meld together. When baked on Christmas morning it turns into a combination of a souffle and a casserole. It is a holiday must-have in Kunaland.
You may be wondering what we had for Christmas Day dinner. Frozen pizza! It is great to make special meals, but none of us wanted to spend the entire holiday cooking.
Another Christmas tradition. William decided to make Grace a favorite dessert and Grace decided to do the same for William. It was their gift to each other. Personally, I love the idea of a gift of service. Both William and Grace shared their dessert gifts with the rest of the family. A sweet holiday for all.
For decades Julie and I have tried to deemphasize gift giving, but we have been only partially successful. We have come to realize that it is an important part of the holiday, and we now focus on finding things that have meaning rather than things that are just expensive. For instance, the kids know of my love of camping and gave me items like a book on the National Parks. I gave Julie a variety of things, but I also fixed a long-broken lamp that she loves. For us, it is less about the thing and more about the idea behind the thing. With that said, it is a wonderful feeling when someone is thinking about you. Kindness does not have a monetary value.
We enjoy spending time with each other. Most of our Christmas time together was centered around meals, watching the end of a TV series on a DVD (which was also overdue from the library), and gift opening.
One of the advantages (for introverts like us) was having more alone time this year. There is not much more to say about this as each of us like doing our own thing.
Extended relationships time-
We had a long ZOOM call with Julie’s family on Christmas, and I made sure to contact people during the holiday season via the phone, ZOOM, Facetime, email, Facebook, and texting. As the pandemic has lurched on socializing options, like a group ZOOM call, seem more natural.
If I summarize what we did for Christmas, it wasn’t much. We remembered why we were celebrating the day, put up simple decorations, had a few nice meals, opened some gifts, and connected with people who were important to us. So why was the holiday special? Because we choose to make it so. Importantly, we focused on what we had instead of what we didn’t have.
I would also like to emphasize that I wasn’t trying to artificially replicate our usual Christmas. Instead, I took important elements from past Christmases and created a new celebration. I did this to avoid the agony of comparison. I didn’t want us to dwell on why we didn’t have X, Y, or Z. Instead, I wanted us to focus on what we did have.
I understand that some of you may be more fortunate than me, and some of you may be less fortunate. However, it is possible for all of us to approach important events in our lives with what we have, or what we can create, rather than what we don’t have or what we are giving up.
When I was working I would often hear tales of miserable Christmas holidays. Some would vacation, but their friends went to more exotic places. Others gave fabulous gifts, but they then had to deal with debt. Still others tried to orchestrate a “Norman Rockwell” Christmas and were upset when things weren’t as perfect as what they imagined. People can be disappointed during the best of times when they choose to focus on what’s missing. It is up to us to make our lives the best that they can be.
Christmas 2020 will only happen once in a lifetime, I refuse to throw this day away in the hopes of a better 2021. Each day is precious, never to be repeated.