The Christmas I'll Carry

For me, it seems that to honor the holiday, I must honor the everyday.
01/10/2014 05:53 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2014

For some time, I've wanted to write about the holidays and celebrations and Christmas and family. I've wanted to talk about all the magic buried in the chaos and hold it up -- to share with you and to remind myself. But the season is so, that when it's over, it's hard to stir it to life again. It becomes stacked in our files of lovely holiday memories mixed with a little survival and a little relief. We are already up to our eyeballs in becoming better in the New Year, so the pause and reflection feels strained when we're using so much force to move forward, to shed, to evolve.

Christmas is a funny thing. It brings to the surface so much all at once. I think of the planning and orchestrating, the spending and decorating, the carried traditions and the shiny new ones that give way to permanence in our lives. The holidays always seem to reflect the beauty and the burden, just like life. Because of that, I want to capture and secure Christmas, I want to know what it is, so that each year I can bring it down from the attic and set it up for all to enjoy. I want the guarantee. But it hardly ever works like that. I can never predict where exactly I'll find Christmas.

I find myself disappointed in drearier, sometimes darker moments that had been laid out and prepared as the holiday highlights. I can't seem to force myself into the promise of traditional, ready-made Christmas fun. And I'm harsh as I face that truth each year. I feel weary when I should be inspired or annoyed when there is glee to gather. And never can we find boots, hats and mittens at the same time. This wild little detail, among others just like it, is often enough to make me crumble. That warm and fuzzy heart-opening bliss is often found in places and times that I never planned.

And when I do feel that spirit shoot through me, it's so simple, it's hardly ever bright and shiny, or where I left it. Instead, it's hidden, sometimes so close to suffering or sadness, it would be easy to miss in the pile of rubble. In the course of the season, our full, extended family -- like many families -- coped with everything from unexpected injuries, addiction, overwhelming stress and chaos, to the breakdown of traditions, the clash of family roles, too little, too much, chronic uncertainty. So how then can we find and feel Christmas in all of this, when real life won't suspend, won't let us be?

I steal a conversation with my uncle I only see once a year in the corner of a kitchen. Pots boil over and kids interrupt. But still I listen as he says kind words. We laugh with meaning. He reminds me of things I've forgotten. Christmas morning is filled with early risers and wild bounty. My husband has drawn a picture and framed it for each of our children. And even though they have already unveiled the digital, the unbelievable, the sought after, we watch as they open their drawings. There is the heavy silence of awe and appreciation. My daughter puts her hand over her heart without prompting. We don't speak because we don't need to. We know that -- however fleeting -- they saw Christmas in this tender token.

A week later, during a blizzard, I hurl words of frustration at my 11-year-old. We stomp and struggle into the night. When it grows quiet and the wind and snow slam against our house in the dark, I convince him to grab his gear and we hike to the movies together. He shows me a hidden trail I never knew. I take his hand. And he takes mine back. We are the only ones in the whole wide world. That's how it feels when stinging heals. On a weekend morning following the holiday, we stay in pajamas and don't sweep the floor, and our nieces sit around a table of play dough singing with our girls. Right then, I know that nothing else matters but sprinkled doughnuts and time. And when my Dad sets off on a late Sunday night before the New Year, he is saturated with wine and family fun. He leans his head against mine and says, "You are my hero. I am so proud of you." Growing up he always talked to me like this and I'm suddenly embarrassed by how much I've missed it. And surprised by how much I needed to hear it. I wear it like a blanket as I fall asleep that night. I weave all these moments together to make Christmas.

In truth, I want to walk through Christmas with more purity and less pageantry. Each day, each year, looking in new places and revisiting treasured ones. Allowing grace and grit, magic and madness, certainty and surrender. For me, it seems that to honor the holiday, I must honor the everyday. Then it gathers in one courageous month, to be exactly what it is -- celebration of life and all its fragile and fantastic offerings. That is the blessing, that is the Christmas I carry.