The other day I told someone that I don’t celebrate the holidays, and the most startling look of pity came onto their faces. It was if I told them “I kill baby birds for sport.”
One of the beautiful gifts that my ex-husband gave me was the idea that the holidays can be whatever we want them to be. Have a tree, don’t have a tree. Do gifts, don’t do gifts. Make it stressful, make it relaxing. Follow tradition, or don’t. And it was as though my wings were no longer clipped. One year we got a beautiful tree, filling the house with the aroma of evergreen. Another year we picnicked on the beach at Thanksgiving with sub sandwiches and a cheap bottle of wine. One year we opened Christmas gifts in bed, another year we ate lobster along floor to ceiling windows with dolphins swimming by. Another year I invited family for the only time I’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and the following year we spent it holed up in a tiny restaurant, away from all the accoutrements of turkey and such. Before our years as a married couple, I used to stress out on the holidays – go broke because of the expectations of others, because of traditions that weren’t defined in a way that made actual sense. You do it because you’ve always done it.
And I see families consider it a tragedy when finances are a challenge that ‘our kids might not have a Christmas’. Really? Your holidays are so focused on material things that without them there is no love, no togetherness, no reason to celebrate? It’s one thing to make a certain day of the year extra special if that’s your thing, but to look at an entire year as dependent on one day, that’s another thing, and something that concerns me about much of our culture. Everything is so beautiful when you treat life as a holiday – treasuring the ones you love any damn day of the year you please. I would so much rather get surprised with a handmade gift or sweet letter or the gift of time away together, much more than have one day where, if nothing happens, it’s a terrible thing. One year a gift I sent to a sister arrived later than the others, nothing to do with me, and I was treated as if I had shot her in the face. From that point, I stopped making gift-giving a part of holidays. If there are to be special days in the year, they would be about time, and conversation, and affection.
And once I did that? Gave up the gift giving as a requirement? It became so much easier. I wasn’t forced into choosing between paying a bill and buying some useless crap for someone who didn’t need it in the first place. Instead, I invited the person to a dinner, something to happen one on one during the holidays, time for us to enjoy each other’s company, maybe dress up a little, and just laugh and talk for as long as we want. And the night would end all wrapped up in love and affection for each other, for the friendship, for the relationship, for the bond. Not because of something that was unwrapped.
For thirteen years, I’ve done something special revolving around Solstice. Winter and Summer, the seasons changing and the time was always good to bring people together. Different friends and colleagues and sometimes even relatives, but it was about the connection. I fed you, I served you, I thanked you by welcoming you into my home. You fed me with who you were at that moment in your life, with your friendship, with your hugs.
After many years of the grand gatherings, culminating with twenty-seven people in a very small home, last year I changed up the game. I’d found myself expecting to throw a party, and yet I was in a financial mode that didn’t allow me to do what I’d done in the past. So instead, I invited the women closest to me at the time, and we had a simple dinner. And again, it was as it should be – good food, great conversation, and beautiful connections, as I’d wanted. There was no exchange of gifts, there was never a feeling for any of that.
Give those you love the gift of your time. The days I remember are the days where someone just devoted extra special time to us, walking along the shore or kicking back in the backyard, sipping a drink and talking about whatever we wanted, whatever came to mind. Give those you love the words they need to hear – tell them why you are happy they are in your life. Thanksgiving is every day you can make it.
Tell someone that moment that their laugh makes you smile a little brighter, that their words inspire you, that you love to watch them with your children, that when they hug you, you know that all is right with the world. Thank them for calling you on it when you’re out of line, for seeing you for all that you are and loving every bit of you unconditionally, for teaching you even when you didn’t want to learn.
And don’t worry about all the rest. Don’t let all the rest determine how you’ll show your love and appreciation throughout the year. Don’t equivocate gifts with love and don’t let your children believe that because something has always been done a certain way, that it means it’s the right way. Open your heart, open your mind, and let your life in, whatever way it’s meant to be.
Today is October 3rd, 2011. I write this for all of you, and I thank all of you who have read my words, silent or responsive, over the past three years. Since my father died three years ago next month, I have not looked at life the same. I have become more of myself, exposed more of my insides, been the most vulnerable I’ve ever been, and for that, I am blessed. Thank you to the readers and fellow writers all over the world that I have made who have crossed over into real life friends, who have accepted me and all my imperfections. I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.