A Gentle Christmas

This pre-Christmas season was different for me than many of its predecessors. We did many of the same activities, but they felt different to me. The activities felt less dramatic and frantic. It was not a bad thing. My life coach would be very happy to hear that the difference was that I was more inclined to immerse myself in each exquisite, sensual, joyful moment instead of seeing the whole totality of Christmas cheer as one, interwoven, overwhelming monolith of mood. In the past, each of these activities, conversations, experiences precariously balanced on the success or failure of the one before it.  Each holly jolly moment had to be “just so” to keep the Christmas monolith from crumbling onto my heart like an avalanche of disappointment. If I skipped something that has always been part of Christmas in my life, or if I did not imbue some gift with a manic level of sentimentality and sparkle, or if some Noel bell rang hollow for some reason- Christmas would be a failure and I would be left in the holiday wasteland for another year.

This year, I savored each Christmas theme park. I let each Christmas treat I ate sit on my taste buds. I threw myself into activities that brought me pleasure in the moment and skipped events that I typically do only because “I always do them.” I entertained people that I love, when it was convenient for me and for all of them. I bought and made presents that I believe brought joy to the recipients. If I did not find something that spoke to me for a certain person, I did not despair. I decorated my Christmas trees with ornaments that made me happy and did not worry that my “elegant tree” was no longer elegant.  In fact, the lack of elegance did not even register with me until I mentioned it to someone else.  I did the decorating over several days; thus avoiding the exhaustion and panic I often feel. I went to bed tired but had refreshing sleep nearly every night. I wrote Christmas cards strictly for the purpose of bringing pleasure and connection, not because I “had to” because other people would send them to me. In fact, I recognized that my Christmas card list was a trifle arduous and decided to do something different throughout 2024 to make my greetings more personal and effective.

The season seemed to go quickly, but it did not feel rushed. I was always looking forward to the next seasonal delight… but I was not looking forward to it until the current one was finished. I’m not sure what has changed for me, but whatever it was made the period between mid-November and Christmas extremely enriching and enjoyable. I was musing about this a week or so before Christmas. For the past five years or so, we have either gone to friends for Christmas dinner or had people come to our house. This year, our little family of friends is somewhat scattered. I originally thought to invite people over but decided against it. I had a bit of a health challenge (everything is great now, by the way!) which took up a lot of energy. As Christmas approached, though, I was starting to feel a little “meh” because I had no festive party planned. I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel when the day rolled around with nothing on my dance card.

I did end up inviting another couple to come for dinner on December 22. We festived ourselves silly. It really did feel like a Christmas gathering. However, I still wondered how I was going to feel about a “quiet Christmas.”

As it turned out, Max and I had a wonderful Christmas together. On Christmas Eve, I went to the Sunday morning church service. Max met me and another couple from our family of friends at a local restaurant for brunch. After enjoying some food, fun, and fellowship, we went our separate ways. Max and I opened Christmas presents later in the day, drove around looking at Christmas lights in our development, and watched our traditional Christmas Eve movie- Little Women. The next day, we attended Christmas morning church service during which our deacon delivered the sermon. In my family of origin, we opened gifts on Christmas Day after going to church. Each year, my mother, who has been deceased for seven Christmases buys us each a present. We opened our presents from my mother after Christmas morning service. I watched the Christmas Eve service from my church so I could hear the choir sing and my pastor preach. Later, we watched football and just hung out with each other. We ended the day watching another traditional movie for us- Therese: The Story of Saint Therese of Lisieux. 

When people ask how my Christmas was, I could say “nice, but quiet.”  However, that is not quite correct. I think it is more accurate to say, “nice, but gentle.”  I found a lot of joy this Christmas season. It was not noisy and loud, but it was audible and profound. I connected with many of my traditions in a way that did not feel forced. I let go of traditions that do not nurture me. I planted myself firmly in moments of wonder and excitement. I did not hop, jump, or dodge from one glob of fun to the next. I found myself steeping emotion and meaning into each moment instead of slapping a slipshod coat of sentimentality over timeslots as I rushed to make my next “appointment” with happiness. The monolith is not one, fungible tankard of Christmas cheer. When you take a step back, that monolith is a mosaic made up of dozens and dozens of individual, beautifully crafted moments and experiences. 

I slept in heavenly peace this Christmas season because I had a gentle Christmas.

How would you describe your Christmas? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Blessed Christmas!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Beyond The North Pole

Those of you who read my blog regularly (and if you don’t, why the heck not?!) know that Max plays Elf on the Shelf for me every year in December. Each morning, before I wake, he helps my elf find clever hiding places so I can play elf hide-and-seek. Up until this year, the grown-up version of the elf was very tiny- about as long as my thumb and half as wide. Kringle’s size made it possible for him to hide in a wide variety of bizarre places. Not a good option for the younger set. Most kids worth their salt would have become bored and frustrated looking for a microscopic elf. Children would have the good sense to wander off to pursue more rewarding activities. I was not so wise. I often needed multiple hints to locate him and there were some mornings I searched for a good half hour before calling “ally, ally, outs in free.” The elf would giggle maniacally when Max retrieved him from a place I either would never think to look or, embarrassingly, where I had already looked several times.

Max liked that Kringle the Elf was so small because it gave him the advantage in the game. I liked that he was small because it made him unique and interesting. On the other hand, Kringle’s size made him kind of delicate. And hiding places like a slat on a plantation shutter or in the fold of a blanket on the couch were definitely hazardous to his health. His little appendages were about as thick as toothpicks and more fragile. Over the years, bits of him kept breaking off until there was really only a torso, head, and bit of a cap left of him. It was pathetic, but I would not relent and replace him.

For one thing, my Kringle was part of a limited-edition promotion. You cannot just buy tiny elves. The elves in the stores were all much bigger than Kringle. If Kringle is the measuring stick, a regular elf on the shelf seems like a mutant. One year, Amazon gave away these mini-elves with a $100 purchase. Since spending $100 on Amazon was child’s play for my mother, she acquired several of these little guys and gave them away for Christmas of 2015. That is the other reason I was loathe to replace Kringle. My mother bought him and inspired the game of elf hide and seek that Gary plays with me each December. Kringle was part of my Christmas sentimental journey to visit my Momma.

This year, however, when Max and I were wandering around Hobby Lobby a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, we found a facsimile elf that was only slightly larger than Kringle. Max finally convinced me to let Kringle go home to the Great North Pole In The Sky and bring a new elf, Kristina, into our little family. I agreed reluctantly only on the condition that I myself had no part in disposing of our mutilated little Kringle. One day he just disappeared. I assume he is enjoying his retirement in a nice safe hiding place.

Kristina has been an excellent elf, although I still think of Kringle fondly. She is a little bigger so she is a little easier to find. However, she is easily as sneaky as Kringle. Some days, I have found her lickety-split. Other days, I have needed hints. Two days, I surrendered to her stealthfulness. She hid inside the battery compartment of my wooden Bavarian village. She hid in the paper bag that holds the Christmas card Max bought me. She hid under the edge of the Christmas tree skirt. I think my favorite place that she hid was inside the stable on my fake gingerbread nativity set. I guess she was trying to get there before the wise men.

I sometimes wonder if I am ever going to grow up. Then, I wonder if I want to.

What Christmas activities are making you jolly this year? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Love and joy come to you!

see the nativity set on the bottom shelf- fake gingerbread manger scene, complete with elf!
See her bringing that all important gift of peppermint to the Baby Jesus!

The Lights On The Christmas Tree

Many of you know that 2023 has been a pivotal year for me. It has been scary, challenging, and painful. On the other hand, it has been a year of great growth and liberation. I’ve learned so much. I’ve spent most of my life living in fear and emotional  pain, thinking it was imperfectly normal. This year, I’ve discovered how it feels when pain is not my de facto state of being. It feels more wonderful than I can say. I find myself often reflecting on my improved mental health with a sense of awe and bemusement.

I was talking to my life coach Todd about this transformation. In coaching me, one of his main areas of emphasis has been emotional resilience. He helps me learn to sit with difficult emotions, understanding that I will be able to withstand them and that they will pass. One of his axioms is that feelings are not forever.  There have been many opportunities for me to practice this skill in the past couple of years. As I have developed emotional resiliency, my major focus has been mostly relief when I don’t feel shattered and valueless. I have been gaining strength and confidence, especially over the past year. Recently, I have started to think beyond the moments of relief and contentment, wondering if this newfound peace can really be a new default way of being for me going forward.

I told Todd that I understood his perspective that feelings are not forever. I agreed that I have experienced the phenomenon of paddling my emotional resiliency boat into safe harbors over the past couple of years. However, I can also look in my rear-view mirror and see a time not so long ago when feelings WERE forever. I asked Todd how I could be confident that I was changed in some fundamental way that would prevent me from turning future painful feelings into forever conditions. He replied with a metaphor that resonated profoundly with me.

He explained that, for many years, I had no concept of self-determination. I had no understanding that I had any power to change conditions that made me depressed, scared, angry, or other otherwise emotionally hobbled.  No matter what happened in my life, no matter how anyone treated me, no matter what needs I had- I simply accepted whatever came my way, believing I had no right or ability to change it. Now, I know that I have agency in my own life. I can often take actions and have conversations that can change my circumstances. I can choose how I respond to events that I do not have the capacity to change. Todd said it was like having a stone in my shoe. Most of my life, I wandered around with a stone in my shoe without even knowing I had a stone in my shoe. I just knew something hurt. Since I did not know there was a stone stabbing into the sole of my foot, I never took my shoe off to shake it out. Therefore, the pain WAS forever. Now, I know that there is a stone in my shoe. I can take time out to extract it when necessary, so the pain will be temporary.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to muse a little more about this metaphor. I decorated the house for Christmas.  I pulled out the self-lighting tree I purchased last year. It is one of those fancy-dancy trees that have this “magic” central pole to make the tree light up all over without having to attach multiple strings of lights to each other. I love the lights on this tree. They are so colorful, with pure, clean shades of pink, blue, green, yellow, red, and blue. It makes me happy just to look at them.

I heaved the tree out of its box, struggling to stabilize the trunk in the holder and maneuver the upper section into place. I am just a little too short on one end and a lot too lacking in upper body strength to assemble the entire thing without breaking a sweat. The tree also attacked me with its thousands of sharp plastic needles, leaving bloody scratches on my forearms.  Finally, I had the entire structure standing straight and strong, overlooking my living room. The colorful universe of lights twinkled from top to bottom.

I lovingly unwrapped my ornaments- all of which hold sentimental meaning for me. There is not a single boxed, generic Christmas ball on my tree. I have one ornament that graced my maternal grandmother’s tree when she was a child. I have numerous Tinkerbell ornaments. I can tell you where Max and I were visiting when I purchased many of them. I have a reindeer wearing Alohawear swimming trunks from my first trip to Hawaii- he does jumping jacks when I pull a string. I have a hippopotamus ornament that I originally bought for my mother soon after we moved to Florida. We used to drive by this store that sold large bronze statuary. One day, Momma mused out loud why anyone would want a huge bronze hippo on their front lawn. Confused, I asked her what she meant. She pointed to one of the statues on display. I advised her that it was a cow, not a hippopotamus. That ornament always makes me laugh.

I found places on the tree for each ornament, reminiscing as I worked. Finally, I stepped back to admire my handiwork. I saw that it was good. The ornaments brought me joy and the lights sparkled. I felt like the completed Christmas tree was worth the considerable effort and lacerations. I went into another room to do some additional decorating.

When I returned to the living room, something looked wrong to me. It took me a second to realize it, but it soon hit me that the top half of the tree was no longer twinkling. It was no longer glowing. It was no longer colorful. It was no longer lit. It seemed that the magic pole had lost its magic, no longer transmitting power through both sections of the tree. I had limited options for troubleshooting because it is not that easy to manipulate a tree decked out with 64+ years of sentimental ornaments. I gingerly tried a few possibilities, but to no avail. The bottom had twinkling, colorful lights dancing around it, but the lights came to an abrupt halt mid-tree. It looked silly, so I decided it would be better to turn the lights off completely.

As the evening wore on, I kept looking at the tree in all its non-lit splendor. It made me sad to see it so lifeless and flat. Also, because there were no lights drawing my eye to the sparkle, all I saw was the clumsiness of my ornament placement. The blank spaces and the places on the tree where too many ornaments bunched together glared at me.  All the joy I felt in decorating the tree seemed artificial. I experienced a palpable feeling of pain, disappointment, and resignation. I prepared myself to tolerate the lightless tree for the next few weeks, trying to convince myself that it was okay.

It wasn’t okay, though. I was downright sad. I thought about buying a few strings of lights to give the tree a little oomph, but everyone knows that the lights go on the tree first. I wasn’t sure how it would work to try to string the lights around the already decorated tree. I sure as heck did not want to remove all the ornaments and start over again. It seemed like a waste of money to buy lights, since the tree came with plenty of lights… if they would just light. I kept trying to convince myself that it was not a big deal, but I could not let it go. It was a stone in my shoe.

By the next day, I had decided. I didn’t care if the lights were supposed to go on first. I didn’t care if I was spending $20-$30 that I should not have had to spend. I wanted lights on my Christmas tree, and it was within my power to have them. I took myself to Lowe’s, bought three hundred colored lights, and added a string of clear lights to put around the bottom of the tree, for good measure.  When I got home, I draped the lights around the tree, over the ornaments.  It was not perfect. In fact, it is pretty messy and bunchy in places. Removing the lights will probably be a nightmare. But you know what? When the lights are on, I don’t see the mess. I just see the lights. And they make me happy.

There was a time when I would have simply lived with the lightless tree, silently grieving while putting on a happy face. I would have simply tried to tolerate the disappointment because that was my state of being. I certainly would not have entertained the notion that I could do anything to change my set of circumstances… or that it was okay for me to even want to change it.

I guess an old elf can learn new tricks. 

What have you learned this holiday season? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me to terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a holly jolly day!

Terri/Dorry 😊