I recently made an important discovery about myself. I’ve found my Christmas spirit again.
I’ve always been in tune with the religious aspect. I am Christian, and understand the significance of the holiday to my spiritual life. I go to the church services, sing the songs of faith and praise, and feel the specialness of the season in my soul.
But with my husband Jim’s illness and death, I lost my Christmas spirit. I couldn’t feel happy about trees, cards, gifts and family gatherings. I could not seem to feel anything but horrid dread. I just had to get through all of it to get to Dec. 26, when I could breathe a sigh of relief for having made it.
The added complication was that Jim died in early December six years ago, so his death was still very raw that first year. The way I felt then seemed to resurface every year and I would go through a month of torture that seemed unbearable at times. I would perform the motions of what was expected of me each year, trying to feel something besides deep sadness.
Until this year.
This year I couldn’t wait to go craft fairing with my friend Alice, looking for those special things no box store carries. I couldn’t wait to get my tree and be able to sit with its brightly colored lights and appreciate its fragrance and all of the beautiful decorations that tell the stories of so many past Christmases.
I wanted to get out my Nativity scene, my Hallmark snowmen that sing holiday songs and dance in place, and my Christmas tablecloths, kitchen towels and other linens.
I wanted all of the reminders of Christmas to surround me and fill me with the happiness that comes from being reunited with old friends.
My parents and I have a couple of shopping trips we do together every year, and at the end of our trip to Dover-Foxcroft this year, we came home by way of Newport and Burgess Tree Farm. Our family, having once owned a farm, is very supportive of Maine farms, but this one is special. It belongs to people we know, whose friendship was made when I was a teenager on our family’s farm.
We caught up a little with the owner, and racing against a fading sun, found our trees. Mine had to be cut fresh. I like a large full tree that looks like it belongs in the big room where it stands in front of the sliding glass doors. So Dad sawed it, he and I hoisted the tree on top of the truck’s roof and I rode on the back of the truck back to the barn, holding the tree in place. We’re all a lot older, but it still seemed like old times.
Our friend netted the trees and we were on our way. With a tree in my possession, I messaged my daughters and their spouses and invited everyone to dinner and a tree decorating evening at my house one evening after work. They all came, and my youngest daughter brought a couple of friends with her too. We had such a wonderful time eating and decorating and just enjoying being a family.
I stood apart at one point, marveling at how I would not have this family now without having had Jim in my life. They all came to me through him, and he left them here for me — another gift to enrich my life. And I can finally look past the hurt of losing him and actually see the treasure he has left me.
I wish there were more time before Christmas this year. I am more behind than usual in my shopping and wrapping and Christmas cards for reasons I cannot quite figure out, and I would love to put up more lights and decorations. I will get done what must be done. Somehow.
But I have spent lots of time with family and friends doing things together that are fun and that have strengthened our bonds.
Just yesterday, I Skyped with my young niece and nephew and read them a couple Christmas-themed story books I have purchased for them. One was on the Nativity of course. It is a tradition I started with my niece the year she was born. The other was “The Twelve Maine Christmas Days” by Wendy Ulmer and illustrated by Sandy Crabtree.
We had fun trying to remember the moose, blueberries, blue lobsters, sand dollars, spitting clams and of course the pine trees that were part of the 12 days story. Now I will send my niece and nephew the books in the mail, but they always will have the memory of reading them first with their Aunt Julie.
These are the true gifts of Christmas that I will always treasure, and that add to my feeling of Christmas spirit.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all of you! May the spirit of the season give you hope and happiness and, above all, peace.