A reflection on the meaning of Christmas for a small-town girl at heart
The Christmas season is the busiest time of the year and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth all the stress, extra work and late nights. Don’t get me wrong: I love Christmas! It has been my favourite holiday since childhood and I look forward to it each and every year. But it seems as I grow older, Christmas loses more and more of its joyful appeal in the bombardment of must-have advertisements and boxing week blow out sales vying for our attention and our dollars.
To quote the Grinch from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” More specifically, I hate the busyness and mad rush of the season. I hate the added stress of extra commitments, especially in the workplace when yearend deadlines kick in to high gear and demands triple. I especially hate having to choose between meeting my employer’s demands and spending time with family because it’s usually my family time that suffers.
The last few Christmases have been especially hard for me. Over the past five years, I descended further and further into a pit of depression and anxiety each year. I knew Christmas is supposed to be a joyous occasion, but I could no longer experience the joy of the season in the midst of the stress and darkness suffocating me. I soon came to dread the coming December and became bitter and resentful. I had panic attacks when the pressure of demands became too much and frequently collapsed in a sobbing heap on the floor of the women’s bathroom at work or in my bed at home in the middle of the night.
Two years ago, I wanted to skip Christmas altogether. My love for this beloved holiday had turned into hate. I was tired of being stretched in all directions like I was some kind of rubber stretch toy. My employer expected me to meet impossible deadlines. I was barely making enough money to pay my bills and everywhere I turned someone wanted money, either for a gift exchange, a donation, a fundraiser, etc. I worked full-time plus overtime and then there were Christmas parties and multiple family gatherings to prepare food and buy gifts for.
Somewhere in all the craziness I knew I also needed to practice love, joy and kindness because that’s what Christmas is supposed to be about, but after being stretched so thin, it seemed I had no room left in my heart for the most important things that make this season unique.
Essentially, I became the Grinch; my heart was two sizes too small.
Over the years, it seems I lost sight of the meaning of Christmas and let myself fall prey to the commercialization of it. I knew I couldn’t keep going on the path I was on because it would lead to my destruction and I had to make some changes in my life if I was going to enjoy Christmas ever again.
I started by taking the time to remember what Christmas means to me. When I look back on my childhood Christmases, I don’t remember the stuff I got for Christmas unless it has a sentimental story behind it. For example, every year my grandparents gave each of their grandkids a box of Toffifee (a hazelnut in caramel with creamy nougat and chocolate)—a tradition that my mom continues to carry out since my grandparents’ passing (read my published short story, “Sweeter Than Chocolate” to find out more about this holiday tradition). I only remember some of the toys I received as a child because my mom took photos and, from aged nine and on, I took the time to document the gifts I received in a diary or journal.
What I do remember about past Christmases, however, seems to revolve around times spent with family and friends.
I remember playing outside in the snow with my family and friends, building snowmen or snow forts, skating on the ice rink my dad had made in the backyard, snowmobiling across farmer’s fields near where we lived, and tobogganing down the side of the road near the St. Adolphe bridge that crosses over the Red River.
I remember dancing and singing along to Boney M’s Christmas album with my mom and sisters in our living room and Saturday family movie nights watching Christmas classics on TV, such as Home Alone 1 & 2, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I remember decorating the Christmas tree as a family and making Christmas ornaments to put on the tree. I remember my parents packing us in the car some evenings and driving to the city so we could look at the Christmas lights and decorations in people’s yards and on their houses.
I remember singing and acting in the Christmas plays my church put on every Christmas Eve and going to my grandparents’ house afterwards for candy. I also remember carolling around town with my church youth group and going for sleigh rides in the country.
Last year, I decided to take back my love for Christmas and say no to all the things that didn’t represent what the season meant to me. This meant saying no to participating in gift exchanges, over-commitments and unreasonable expectations; it meant prioritizing how I spend my time, money, and abilities; and it meant returning my focus to the reason I celebrate Christmas in the first place, which is to celebrate the birth of Love and Redemption through Jesus Christ.
When the true meaning of Christmas finally came through to the Grinch, his “small heart grew three sizes that day!” My heart, too, has grown, and I feel so much more freedom to enjoy Christmas to its fullest now that I know what is most important to me.
May you, too, take the time to remember what this season means to you so you can enjoy it for all its worth.
Have a very Merry Christmas full of love and blessings!
A Small-Town Girl at Heart
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.