Part One – The Illusion
Part Two – The Reality
Part Three – My Own Christmas
I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.
It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I was certainly old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her perfectly loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.
It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours and hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be.
Once I finished decorating it, once my home was finally calm and quiet after my grandparents went to visit some of their acquaintances, the three of us had the unbelievable, unexpected chance to simply feel it was Christmas. Presents – small, thoughtful and amusing tokens of appreciation – discretely found their way under the tree, when the others weren’t looking. Between the carols, the smell of the tree and the Christmas wrapping paper torn open and spread all over the floor, we could laugh and be light-hearted, we could forget that uncomfortable sadness; we felt relieved, because somebody had thought of and cared about each and every one of us that year. We had each other, and that was all that mattered. We understood each other, we knew each other’s stories and we supported each other. It was as safe, calm and blissful a moment as any of us could have. We shared hopes and dreams; we shared painful stories of Christmases past and present and for once they didn’t hurt. We didn’t know it back then, but we were already forging our own traditions, we were deciding what we would never become, because our families had taught us what we hated most about human beings.
That’s how my grandmother found us, lying on the Persian rug near the tree, wrapping paper spread everywhere. Were we drunk, she wanted to know. No, we were not. Well, good, then it was time for us to clean up and go to wherever we were heading that evening, because she was expecting guests and we were in the way. But not before she opened her own Christmas present from me. I don’t remember what I got her that year, but after making a face and muttering a thankful ‘I suppose it’ll have to do’, the gift was deemed worthy to be seen by her friends. I adjusted my extremely short dress, I put on my extremely high heel boots and my nice coat and off we went, to wherever we were going to go. Apparently we were the cool kids, so we were going to attend a fun party and/or go dancing with our equally cool friends and acquaintances, whose parents weren’t particularly interested to know where and how their children spent Christmas, as long as they weren’t in the way.
We cannot chose the family we are born in, but we can chose the family we make for ourselves, the people who are closest to us, with whom we share the most intimate moments, memories and experiences. Yes, I believe that Christmas is a family holiday; but what I have learnt is that family is not always determined by DNA, not for all of us. My family are those very few people who have always accepted and appreciated me for who I am, those people who have always been there for me, offering their support in hard times and sharing my happiness in joyful ones, those people who have appreciated my doing the same for them. As it happens, none of them are related to me. And it’s all right.
Like I said, I make my own traditions. I choose when and how I decorate the Christmas tree. I choose to bake those delightfully delicious goodies every year – in spite of her countless flaws, my grandmother did manage to teach me some of her baking secrets. I choose to get nice, meaningful gifts for my dear ones, and sometimes I will buy them months before Christmas. I also choose not to judge or appreciate people and measure their affection only based on the presents they offer me. And for the past few years, I have also chosen to spend Christmas at home, nowhere near any relatives.
For years I have frantically chased all sorts of unattainable holiday goals, only to end up being disappointed, only to end up thinking of that bittersweet Christmas Eve, wishing for that sort of peace and acceptance. I decorate my home early in December and for years I’ve left this cosy place in order to try and gain acceptance and appreciation from people unable to accept or appreciate anybody. I refused to be alone on holidays, fearing I would be unhappy, only to learn the same lesson, time and time again – the worst kind of loneliness is the one you feel when you’re surrounded by people you don’t like. For years I left behind the people who cared about me so I could be with my… family. No more.
I have people who love me. In spite of my cynicism, I have reasons to be thankful and celebrate on Christmas, and I will do it my own way. I am not perfect and I have long ago given up trying to be, so I have accepted that there are people I will never be able to forgive, just as I will never be able to be nice and good to everybody. But once in a while I need to try to be especially nice to those I hold dear; I have to appreciate myself and the beautiful parts of my life. For me, Christmas is such a time… because I get lost in my own life and I need a reminder to stop and offer all these small pleasures to myself and those close to me. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not deny my own values, no matter what others may believe. And I will feel and celebrate Christmas the way I find it appropriate, allowing for bittersweet happiness and relinquishing all guilt and disapproval. You see, I no longer care about what the world or my family expect from me.
Have a nice December, everyone! Whether your celebrate Christmas or not, make sure it’s your own choice and not one forced on you by family or society.