As I’ve written in an earlier post, Christmas was always a big deal for me as a kid. My Mom went out of her way to make it special and I treasure those memories. As a fledgling adult, I tried hard to duplicate those memories. Tried to relive those childhood Christmases past. But something happened in 1981 that sent my world reeling.
One Summer night, after two and a half years of a rocky marriage, my then wife announced that she was no longer in love with me. I lived out of a fire station and my truck for a few months, and tried to regain some semblance of normalcy to my life before picking up the pieces and moving on.
I think it was Christmas 1982 when my priorities were reordered though. Compared to most 20somethings, I was making really good money – about 300% more than I’d ever made in my life. That firefighting gig was pretty cool.
But in the middle of a messy divorce (show me one that’s not messy) and going to paramedic school – all the while working overtime shifts for a local ambulance company and working on my clinical rotations and internship. Life was busy, stressful, and very painful that Winter.
My one source of joy was when I made one trip to Washington Square and spent a boatload of money on my family. It was so much fun to buy things for them that were more meaningful than my previous budget allowed. While there, I ran into a girl I went to school with at Tigard High School. I had the biggest crush on her, way back then.
Cindy went with me to go get a Christmas tree. Originally I wasn’t going to get one, but it was a good ploy to spend time with her. After we took the tree to my place, she left. Now I was more depressed than ever.
It was at that point that I decided not to get my hopes up about Christmas ever again. “It was a stupid holiday anyway!” I said to myself. I wasn’t even sure there was a God anyway, and if there was no God, then Christmas had no meaning other than the celebration of the pagan Winter solstice. If there really was a Jesus, scholars have already pointed out that he was born in the Spring.
Over the next several decades, I greatly downplayed Christmas. Granted, I wasn’t a Scrooge or a Grinch or anything, but I just kept my expectations low. But something happened this week.
[UPDATE 12-09-08] I heard on the John Tesh Radio show tonight that 78% of Americans experience significant stress during the Christmas Holiday Season. This is what I’m talking about overcoming!]
I was driving home from the Westside Portland Tweetup when I began to flip through radio stations and I discovered a station playing all Christmas music. Something happened – it was a flood of childhood memories – and best of all, I let it happen. I’ve been listening to Christmas music all week too!
[UPDATE: I used to cringe when I heard the first Christmas music. “Too much, too soon, not now!” But, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I’m good with it. Bring it on!]
I think I’ve found the balance. Christmas is no longer a sentimental journey into childhood greed. I no longer have to create the unrealistic expectations of a “perfect” retrospective holiday. I know now, better than ever, who I am and where I fit in the “Grand Scheme.” And best of all, I’ve worked through the agnostic angst of those pain-ridden, post-divorce years.
I also accept the fact that Jesus was born in the Spring, but I no longer have a need to fix the world. I no longer need to save people from their ignorance.
I think having kids has a lot to do with that. My Darling Daughter is now old enough to sing carols and to enjoy all the pretty lights. She is also old enough to understand that some people spend a lot of money on Christmas, but some people don’t even have enough money to eat.
Already this is shaping up to be a great Christmas season! How is it for you?