I feel like a walking Christmas tree. My emotions, like bright shiny ornaments, are on display for all to see. My fingers and toes are tingling and sensitive to the touch, like the prickly branches of a fragrant pine. I cry easily.
Strolling through the Toronto Christmas Market I see a women cradling a baby. The tiny girl is bundled in a snow white sleeper and red toque. Her blue eyes are wide and sparkling for she has seen the giant Christmas tree hung with brilliantly coloured ornaments and wrapped in gold garland. The baby cannot take her eyes from this towering fir; her face is alight with the wonder of it all. Tears fill my eyes. To see the world with that level of astonishment, rarely happens when you are an adult. We know too much.
A few days later I am in the audience for a carol sing by a group of Montessori students, ranging in age from five to eleven years. Some of them are holding brightly coloured ukeleles (pink,orange, green,red) that they have been learning to play for the past four months. They strum the instruments and sing “Frosty the Snowman”, “Silent Night” and “White Christmas”, with an infectious enthusiasm that fills the room with joy. I am in tears again. And I want to jump up and tell them that they must not lose their sense of wonder, no matter the challenges they face.
I feel like a sopping mess this Christmas. I don’t have children of my own. I made a deliberate choice and I live agreeably with that choice most of the time. But at this time of year, doubt creeps in. What have I missed?
Regret is not a pretty emotion and it gets tangled up with grief and disappointment. I realize that writing through this mess is the best option. That means sitting with my feelings instead of pushing them away. It means allowing memories to bubble up and spill over so that I can dive in and write how it really was. Christmas is made of memories. Each year, like a movie reel, my mind replays the highlights and lowlights of Christmas’ past. I am taking advantage of my sensitive state. I am using my heightened awareness to reach back and capture moments of truth.
The baby blue jewellery box I received one Christmas, had a gold key on the side. When I wound the key and lifted the lid, a ballerina in pink tutu twirled to music. She was tiny and delicate and she danced to the theme from Swan Lake. I loved that satin-lined jewellery box. I filled it with my treasures and imagined myself dancing in soft, leather flats. This was a pretty, feminine gift that appealed to my nine year old self, older sister to three younger brothers.
The jewellery box moved with me to University and back again when I resettled to run the Lodge. And then it was gone-burned up in the flames of the fire that consumed the Main Lodge building in 1982. Thirty three years since I’ve thought of that jewellery box. I had forgotten my dancing dream.
The girl who lived across the street when I was nine, took ballet and tap dance lessons. I thought she was wildly sophisticated and I wanted to take lessons too. I pestered my Mom until she let me go with Debbie to find out what it was all about. The teacher gently told me that I was not the right shape for ballet- too short and not thin enough. She didn’t say those words exactly, but at nine I already understood about less than ideal body types. I was crushed. My Mom was sympathetic but I could see she was relieved; the lessons were expensive.
All of this has come flooding back because I have let myself sit and feel the memories of Christmas. I am getting comfortable with slowing down and letting the season wash over me. I am grabbing hold of these remembrances and going deep inside.
The last Christmas my siblings and I celebrated together, we gathered in the creaky, two storey wood frame house my mother bought after the divorce. Two brothers were married, one was still single, as was my sister, and I was living with John. We gave my mother the VHS video, ET and on Christmas night, the decorated tree lit up in the corner, we circled around the television, with drinks and chips and peanuts. If ever there was a movie that celebrated the benefit of retaining a sense of wonder, ET is it. I cried with happiness because ET got to go home and I cried because I thought that finally, after the turmoil of the Lodge fire and my parents’ divorce, we had a new family home where we would meet, my brothers and sister and I, every Christmas, and watch our children grow up together. I felt safe and secure.
But by the next year, both of my brothers had moved to Victoria; my Mom took a job in Southwestern Ontario and sold the house and John’s drinking was so out of control that family get-togethers were fraught with anxiety for me. The memory of that ET Christmas has haunted me for years, but writing about it now has taken the sting away. So many things have changed since then. A Christmas together is always possible. And even if it does not happen, the memory is a beautiful one.
Write your way through the emotion of this season. Use a Christmas memory as the basis for a free write. Don’t shy away from the uncomfortable feelings; dive in deep and see where it leads you.
Til next time, keep writing.