Christmas has always been my favorite holiday – not for any one reason in particular, but Christmas on the whole is pretty great. There are special decorations, special songs, special events that all center on God’s greatest gift to earth that wouldn’t be realized as such until Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas is a promise that the gift of a miraculous birth would end up bringing rebirth for all humanity. I’m sure as a kid that Christmas was all about getting gifts, but at some point the gift emphasis shifted to finding good gifts to give others. I love finding or making something that suits the recipient and shows them in some small way that I love them enough to find something they will like or will use. One of my favorite Christmas mornings was the year that my siblings and I decided to be Santa for our parents. We gathered a few special big gifts, we painted (probably horribly tacky since flourescent puff paint was involved, but proudly well-worn anyway) sweatshirts for them and conned at least one grandmother into helping us purchase some extra little things. Since my room was the only one downstairs and thus closest to the tree, I squirreled away the extra loot and woke up super early to put our Santa gifts out before the grand entrance to the living room. I couldn’t wait to see my parents see their Santa loot; it was probably all I thought about for weeks.
Christmas has always been a sparkly, magical time. I really want to feel that way again about my favorite holiday, but over the last several years, it has been difficult to rally any luster at all. Until this year, I hadn’t even gotten the pre-lit tree out for two years in a row, and we only had stockings out for Christmas day. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have had a tree up at all except my brother and sister put it up the weekend before Christmas; I wouldn’t let them decorate it so that I wouldn’t have to pack up ornaments. This year, I actually decorated, and we have wreaths in the window and lights and garland on the porch and ornaments on the tree. I think subconsciously I wanted the decorations to ignite the Christmas spirit I lost (okay, maybe it was more like a deliberate effort rather than a subconscious desire), but it hasn’t really worked the way I had hoped. Nor have the copious Christmas songs on the radio or the peppermint coffee or the eggnog or the crazy neighborhood assortment of lights and inflatable figures (including a nativity scene with wise men) elicited the same kind of zeal I used to have for all things Christmas.
The only thing that’s close is the joy of matching the right gift with the right person, and even that has taken a few years to get back. The worst Christmas ever was the one right after the third miscarriage. It happened right before Christmas, and each family gathering was just an exercise in emotional control. I wanted nothing more than to disappear or hibernate; I think I actually prayed for a hole in the earth to open and swallow me up during one of the family gift exchanges. For the first time in my life, I just bought stuff to wrap so that everyone who was supposed to have a gift would get something from us. While there is something to be said for getting through a tough time even if it’s by rote, there was no joy at all in that Christmas. It was hard enough dealing with the first post-miscarriage Christmas knowing what could have been, but Christmas hasn’t been the same since that one horrible year. You’d think (or I used to, anyway) that if you love something as much as I loved the Christmas season, that it would be a simple thing to just enjoy it no matter what. Perhaps that is the most insidious thing about grief and depression: it robs you of the simplest joys or changes them just enough to be both recognizable and simultaneously unattainable – the oasis you can see with water you can never drink.
I’m sure a Dickensian catharsis awaits (cue the orchestrated carol of your choice and ringing bells here) if I could only embrace the true meaning of Christmas. But the reality is that special holidays that focus on family time are just hard to deal with. It is nearly impossible to mark the holiday season without also marking the milestones we’re missing. For the day that I got to be pregnant not quite two months ago (think pregnant without feeling like everything is going wrong), I ticked off the markers in my head: by Christmas, we would have seen the heartbeat on ultrasound; by Valentine’s, we would have been entering the second trimester; by my birthday, we would know if it was a boy or a girl… The main marker being the heartbeat and the only thing I told God I wanted for Christmas – the same way a child puts only one thing on their list when they know it’s a huge gift. I think everyone did that as a child with some outrageous desire, even if you were too afraid to say it out loud: “If I got a pony for Christmas, I wouldn’t want anything else,” even if you were happy with every other present you got, and even if you knew you were never going to get a pony. That heartbeat was my outrageous wish list for Christmas, and that’s another reason Christmas spirit is hard to come by.
Even though I didn’t get my heartbeat, and if I never got anything else, all I really want for Christmas is to love Christmas again. I miss whole-heartedly singing carols without crying when I really think about the words; I miss driving around at night looking at lights; I miss the innocence of Christmas without loss.