I had it all planned out. The post was going to be titled “Have Yourself a Mary Little Christmas,” and it was going to be about embracing chaos and imperfection this holiday season. Like Mary, Jesus’ mother, who did not have such a merry Christmas: mile after grueling mile on the back of a donkey at nine months pregnant? Check. Giving birth in a stable? Check. The bible is glib on the subject of angels, shepherds and wise men, but leaves out the labor pains altogether. It can’t have been easy. Anyway, I was going to go on and on like this, and leave you with pithy parallels to your own holiday madness: Sleeping on the floor to accommodate guests? Hey, you’re right there with the Holy Family! Avoiding a particular family member? Try avoiding a crazy king who wants your child murdered! It was going to be good.
And it was going to be a lie. Hokum, bunk, balderdash. The real reason I’m keeping Christmas minimal this year is because I can hardly bear its celebration. It will be the first without my father. And I will not be with my mother, either, because our vacation fund was decimated by the trip we took this Fall, the one we never wanted to make. It’s going to be, to quote a different King (he of the funky jumpsuits), “a blue Christmas.”
I came into the world on a Christmas Day. My mother went into labor at Mass, five weeks before her due date. She remembers thinking, “Oh no. Any day but today.” But I left her no choice. My father remembered watching the Blue-Gray Game at the hospital, while my mother was in labor (Blue won). His first impression of me is recorded for posterity: I had a “mad, red face.” My mother’s are also recorded, in her own handwriting, that I looked just like her, only my eyes reflected innocence, and that she prayed they always would. (A lady at the beauty parlor remarked not long ago that my eyes looked “so pure and innocent;” a boss long ago nicknamed me Virginia — long after I was a married woman — because I looked so naïve and unsophisticated. I guess my mom’s wish was answered.)
Christmas is meant to be a family affair; at our house it meant Christmas in the morning, my birthday in the afternoon (I was born at 5:03 p.m.). This year I will be spending it with my husband’s family, whom I love dearly. But my dad will not be there to share his memory of the Blue-Gray game of 1964, or to reminisce about going out into the rain to buy flowers for my mother — my sister recalls that it was raining; the puddles were nearly up to her waist — or to purchase a necklace at one of the shops at Knott’s Berry Farm, a local theme park. (Who else would be open on Christmas?) He always called me “Honey.” I called him “Daddy,” middle age be damned.
I probably should have written the liar post. It would have been easier to read. No one wants to read this; no one wants to be bummed out at Christmas. But the blog was a lie.
This is supposed to be a spiritual blog. I guess I ought to be teasing out the spirituality of loss, but I’m just not up to it. So to everyone mourning a loss this Christmas I say: You are not alone. We grieve together, but we also rejoice together. And why? Because of someone else who was born on Christmas, someone who showed us that we never really die; we just move on to another state of being. It’s okay to mourn. But let’s also hang on to the greatest gift of the season, the one represented by that baby in a manger: Hope. I’ll see my dad again someday. I wonder who will win the Christmas football game that year?