I dread the Christmas holidays.
Does that make me a bad person? Maybe. But to deny my feelings would be lying and that’s worse.
My father died five days after Christmas. This year marks the 10th anniversary of his passing. Some years are easier to handle than others. I’ve found that there’s no way to predict what each one will be like.
Christmas is also hard because my Dad really loved celebrating it. He was one of those people who put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving. He loved Christmas music. He was the narrator in some of our church’s Christmas productions. For a man who could be rather stoic, Christmas transformed him into a joyful, almost lighthearted person.
I know I’m not the only one who misses a loved one during the holidays. I’m no expert but here are some rules that help me get through it.
1. It’s Okay to Admit You Dread Christmas.
As a Christian, admitting that I struggle with feeling happy about the biggest Christian celebration of the year is difficult. For those who don’t understand, it makes no sense to feel sad when I should be happy. Why can’t I put my grief aside and celebrate that God came to the world in the form of a baby to show us His love? I can’t do that some days. That’s just a fact and I am okay with that now.
Give yourself permission to be honest about what you’re feeling. Your friends and family may not understand but they don’t have to. It’s not about them. It’s about taking care of yourself.
2. It’s Okay to Cry.
When I was young, the album Free to Be, You and Me came out. One of the songs was sung by former NFL great, Rosie Greer. It’s Okay to Cry was one of my favorites, especially the line “It’s okay to cry/crying gets the sad out of you.” Simplistic, yes, but easy for a child to understand.
This year, I managed to make it until this past Wednesday before I cried. On the way home from taking my son to school, I burst into tears. I was mourning the fact that Christmas just isn’t the same without Dad. You would think with time that this feeling would change, but it hasn’t. I don’t like crying because I get all snotty (ick) and feel out of control. But it’s a release I need to express the emotions I can’t handle.
Rosie was right. Crying is not a form of weakness. It is a sign of strength to admit you are dealing with personal pain. Your tears mean you feel something deeply and by letting those emotions flow out, you can find some solace.
3. It’s Okay to Go into Survival Mode Until January.
During the holidays, sometimes you have to simply do what you have to do to survive. That doesn’t mean going into a bunker until January 1. But if avoiding a holiday party or foregoing watching “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” on TV helps, then that’s what you do.
If it means having an extra piece of peppermint bark, nobody is going to judge you. And if they do, they can come talk to me. If you’d rather listen to Led Zeppelin (“Immigrant Song” is one of my favorites) instead of 24 hours of Christmas music, so be it.
If getting through December means going underground for a little while, that’s alright. Don’t feel guilty and pretend to feel a joy you don’t.
4. It’s Okay to Be Angry.
Yes, anger can bubble up amid the grief. I get mad at God for taking my father at the age of 65. I’m angry that he’s not here to see my son open his presents or take him to see the Christmas lights. Dad would have loved his grandson dearly and the fact he never got to meet him seems unfair. Yes, I am lucky that I had my father as long as I did. But that doesn’t make the feelings go away.
Don’t push that anger away. Stuffing it down inside just makes it worse. Acknowledging your frustration is the first step in making peace with it. Yell at God if you want to. He can take it.
5. It’s Okay to Laugh.
For many years, we had a rather bizarre Christmas tree stand that Dad had fashioned out of an old tether ball tire and a holder he wedged into the center of it. Regardless of whether or not we got a real tree or used our fake one, getting a tree into that stand was a challenge he relished. I learned early to leave the room during this time while the stream of Yosemite Sam-like swearing took place. We still laugh about it now.
Dad loved the movie A Christmas Story . To him, it was a slice of his childhood served up on celluloid. Watching him laugh at the father’s (Darren McGavin) attempts to get the furnace to work or his pride in receiving his “major award” in the form of a naughty lamp are memories I treasure. Watching that movie makes me feel close to Dad again, if only for a few hours.
Laughing while you’re crying is good, too.
6. It’s Okay to Live in the Moment.
If I look at December as one long, miserable sobfest, it’s going to be just that. Instead, I try to live hour by hour, day by day, with no expectations.
Yes, some of it’s going to stink. But some of it can be good. Singing “Holly Jolly Christmas” with my fake Burl Ives accent is funny to me (and painful to those around me). So is eating the head off a gingerbread man. Or watching Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut for the hundredth time.
By living in the moment, you can celebrate life for what it is. A strange but fascinating collection of unique experiences and emotions. There are flashes of joy amid the sadness.
That’s all I’ve got. Hope it helps.
Merry Christmas, Daddy. I still miss you.