Finding a Truly Happy Holiday

Hello Everyone,

It’s not a popular opinion, but I have ambivalent feeling about Christmas. Part of me loves the season—the careful selection and tender wrapping of gifts for loved ones, trimming the house in garland, baking cookies and pies, and donating time and services to those less fortunate. Yet another part feels plagued by bad memories, which creates a complex mixture of joy and sadness. Unfortunately, we do not always acknowledge the duality the holidays hold for many people, but there it is, lurking behind every ornament, holiday knickknack, and poignant song.

Having lost too many family members already, I never avoid the sadness altogether, but this year I missed my mom and grandmother more than any other past year. At one point, I debated not doing anything at all. All of the decorations for my house and for the store belonged to them, and with each box I opened, the bittersweet memories made my heart physically ache with the pain of loss. My inner Grinch toyed with cancelling Christmas altogether when a subtle understanding took root. The pain originated from viewing the memories as reminders of those who were no longer here rather than seeing them for what they are: wonderful moments spent with the people I love.

Instead of blandly wishing everyone a “Happy Holiday” this year, I want to share a few memories with you, and I sincerely hope you will post your own memories below. I know many of us suffer silently this time of year, and I want to encourage healing and even joy this season rather than fixating on the sadness.

As I mentioned above, my family celebrates Christmas ever year, and for me, I spent the season either with my mother or grandmother. Christmas shopping was something we all enjoyed, and it became an even more entertaining endeavor when my grandma purchased a scooter. Let’s just say she wasn’t going to win any awards with her driving, and it was a fairly common sight to see her snagging inventory with the handlebars or baskets. Shopping with grandma became more about damage control than actual shopping, and one noteworthy excursion, she managed to dislodge an automatic sliding door from the track. In all fairness, the doors came precariously near to closing on her, but she kicked the scooter into high gear and zoomed away into the mall, leaving my mom, aunt, and I awkwardly staring at a door which could neither open nor close. Poor driving aside, my grandma is the person who taught me to wrap presents—how to fold the corners just so, the best way to apply bows, and when to call it quits and stick “the damn thing in a bag.” She had an affinity for gold decorations too, regardless of whether it was beads, ornaments, accessories, or bows. Oh how she loved bows! Our shop Christmas tree boasts a mere fraction of the bows she piled onto the limbs. We compensate with bras now.

The angel adorning the top is the first tree topper my grandparents bought after they were married in 1958, and they used it ever year since then.  It was a bit of a fire hazard though, so the angel now has a burnt belly.
The crowning angel is the first tree topper my grandparents bought when they married in 1958, and they used her ever year since. It was a bit of a fire hazard though, so the angel now has a burnt belly.

Outside of a deep abiding passion for white lights, my mom was more interested in color than my grandmother, and we loved crafting together. HGTV was her favorite channel, and every year, she had new projects for the two of us to work on ranging from painted figures to fabric Christmas trees. We also painstakingly collected porcelain houses for a lighted village, adding on each year until eventually presents adorned the side or the wall to ensure room for our idyllic snowy village under the tree. The tree itself changed many times over the years as glass ornaments fell by one by one to cats, dogs, and children until she ultimately bought a big box of plastic multi-color holiday shapes. Her one breakable indulgence were these hand blown glass hearts which are impossibly delicate and shatter into so many pieces that you will pick glass from your feet for months to come. In retrospect, I can think of no better medium to represent the human heart than glass, and I cherish them all the more.  We still have about half of those.

The tree, complete with the delicate glass hearts
The tree, complete with the delicate glass hearts

My mother is also the reason I love baking. Long hours at work meant we never spent as much time together as we would like, but she always came home early one evening for the two of us to bake dozens upon dozens of cookies for the family. We’d put on our aprons, roll up our sleeves, and have fun doing something that was uniquely ours.

Our idyllic village suffers from overcrowding now.
Our idyllic village suffers from overcrowding now.

Gift-giving was always a special time in our family too. Every year, we hosted a dinner for the whole family on Christmas Eve, during which we could open all of the presents from extended family but only one from our immediate family. One year, my mom, an expert at sewing, saw a cape-like coat pattern and thought of my grandmother. Around this time, my grandmother saw a cape-like coat in a catalog, and both asked me if I thought the other would like the coat. “Oh, I’m sure she would,” I said to each, biting back laughter. Over the next couple weeks, my mom’s cape came together well, and my grandmother’s order arrived, meanwhile I was still being asked periodically if I thought they would like the gift. On Christmas Eve, my dad, brother, and I conspired to make them each open the other’s gift at the same time. It was priceless.


However, my absolute favorite Christmas memory is more sentimental. For my mom’s gift on Christmas Eve one year, we chose a small box, the inside of which contained an engagement ring from my dad. My dad had planned ahead and asked my grandfather’s permission to marry my mom, and as a family, we worked together to ensure this was her last present of the evening. Slowly, she delicately unwrapped the corners as was her way until she saw the velvet jewelry box. When she opened it, she laughed and, with trademark ability to do the opposite of what people expect, said “You’re so simple. You’re being stupid.” My dad bent onto one knee and replied: “Stupid remains to be seen, but I’m willing to spend the rest of my life with you to prove I’m not. But, simple? Definitely yes.” Since opening the box, her face had become progressively redder, and you could see the glassiness of her eyes forming droplets of tears. She hugged him, called him stupid again, and accepted. Even my grandfather, who was not one to weep, brushed away a few tears. It was one of those rare perfect moments in life where everything goes exactly as planned, and for however long you live, you feel blessed to have been part of it. If that’s not worth remembering with happiness this season, I don’t know what is.

So from the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you: Have a *happy* holiday!