So yeah, so my mom died in February. I ignored my birthday, got through the summer okay, got started with school and daycare and work in the fall. Although it wasn’t smooth or easy, any number of rough spots since last winter could be blamed as much on the new-in-March baby as on my Year of Being a Mess. For whatever reason, I was just not feeling the Christmas cheer as I surfaced from Thanksgiving. (I wasn’t actually very happy about Thanksgiving, either, if you really want to know.)
I wanted not to feel stuck and hampered coming into the Christmas season. I wanted quiet in my spirit, and I wanted some sense of deeper meaning than overeating and overspending and why did you give my kids all that noisy plastic crap? So here’s what I did:
I pulled out my Advent wreath. My kids look forward to this every year; we light the candles every day at dinner, and they really like the candlelight and blowing out the candles.
I set up two containers on the table next to the wreath: one with blank slips of paper and a pen, the other empty. (Although it doesn’t matter what the containers are, I used half-pint canning jars because that was what I had on hand that matched and was not continually in use.) The slips of paper are actually handmade paper from when I was in college, which means that it’s been sitting around waiting to get used for, uh, 12 years now. Which is dumb.
On a blank card, I wrote a thinking question for each week of Advent. Anyone can write responses throughout the week, including a signature or not. Adam and Becky thought this was pretty cool. The plan was to read responses at Sunday dinner, before starting the next week.
- The first week was about hope: What do you hope for in this season or the coming year? As you might expect, we got some “one million dollars” answers and some “world peace” answers. One of my big kids wrote, “I hope Christmas goes well.” I’m not sure what that means, but I found it interesting.
- Week two was about peace: What makes you feel peaceful? How do you (or can you, or have you) spread peace where you are? We haven’t actually read these yet, because we left town last Sunday and talked about joy today. They are waiting for a peaceful moment.
- Week three was about joy, and the questions were substantially the same as week two: What makes you feel joyful? How do you bring joy to someone else? This week started three days after my father died, and as you’d imagine, it was HARD for me to focus on joy in the face of my circumstances. But here’s the deal: I have a daughter who sings; and her rendition of “Holly Jolly Christmas” got me through Thursday. Friday and yesterday, she has been all about the Christmas tree - and yeah, she’s a little pestery at times, but mostly she is just vibrating with enthusiasm. Although the jar was nearly empty, we had a nice chat this evening about joy and taking care of each other and appreciating each other.
- Week four starts today, and with input from the peanut gallery, I wrote down these two questions: What do you love about any particular person (answers have a prescribed form: I love [blank] about [blank])? How did you show love today? We might read these after breakfast on Christmas morning; Christmas Eve night and the evening of Christmas day are taken up with extended family stuff.
I don’t know if this whole thing is making any impact on my children (though I like to think it is - Adam in particular seems quite taken with it), but I can tell you that it’s working for me. I feel ready for this Christmas in my heart, motivated by love and gratitude rather than obligation, and confident in doing the simple things that truly make me happy. I want that to be the kind of thing that my children remember about Christmas when they grow up. This year I am pretty sure I’m doing it right.