The holiday season has three distinct characteristics, like the isosceles triangle shape of the Christmas tree. The star at the top is the ideal part of the season-wonderful symbolic stories and poetic images that sink deep down to touch the place ‘where the spirit meets the bone.’
The bright star at the top of the triangle tree includes recollections of Christmas Past-memories of my children as little kids who got up very early-the excitement of opening their presents. That star-at-the-top-of-the-triangle includes memories of my own childhood, which I shared with two older and three younger brothers. My sisters came later, when I was moving into teenage years.
Old memories lead to new understandings. I had to become a parent to really appreciate my own parents’ extravagance. They wanted nothing more than to make us happy, no matter what the cost. The Christmases they gave us connect to the year-round love they lived for us.
The second angle, down at the right base of the triangle tree, is an increasing awareness of the frantic frenzy that can dominate the season and tarnish the star. This, too, is a function of getting older and seeing the combination of commercialization mixed with frantic frenzy–having to find just the right gift to give to each person on your list so they won’t be disappointed.
The tension includes sending and receiving cards-and feeling remiss when you get a card from someone to whom you didn’t send one. It’s about the dollar price tag of Christmas; it’s about shopping with credit cards. Sometimes it’s just a low-level anxiety about it all, sometimes it’s a matter of trying to repress the high level of un-ease that seems to surround this season.
Then there’s the third angle at the left base of the triangle tree. This is where the minister in me comes elbowing in by reminding me that it is a difficult time for many people because the losses of a lifetime that have accumulated. Grief doesn’t go away. It is stored like Christmas ornaments in the attic, it gets taken out at this time of year, and the box is opened and we’re surprised by sorrow.
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve that big box of bereavements is opened and old pain pops up like the jack-in-the-box when you turn the crank. It hurts, again. The sting of every old grief is sharpened at the turn of this season’s wheel.
One kind of grief that we don’t talk much about is the grief of things that never happened. That kind of loss is hardest of all to recognize, much less acknowledge. We’ve all got a box full of old disappointments.
The passing of the years, the accumulation of experience, broadens the base and pushes the star down making an equilateral triangle. While I want to encourage you to celebrate the bright star at the top of your tree, to catch the spirit of the season, I also want to acknowledge the other parts. You’re not alone in the struggle.
I hope to see you on Christmas Eve so we can sing Silent Night together by candlelight.