I caught myself humming Christmas carols last week when I got the decorations down from a high shelf on the back porch. It’s kind of a new thing. For much of my adult life I did not put up a Christmas tree or decorate for the season. I hated Christmas! A lot of children of divorce do, at least until we figure out how to reclaim the holiday.
I remember the exact moment I started to hate Christmas. It was 1970, and I had just unwrapped the one gift that I most desired that year. A new 6-inch tall fashion doll named Dawn had arrived on the scene, sort of a tiny Barbie doll competitor. How I coveted her and her two girlfriends, and their pretty outfits! And Dad’s new girlfriend, without ever meeting me, had purchased those 3 dolls for Dad to give to me! I was ecstatic when I opened the package with my name under the tree. For a minute, anyway.
Adults should know better!
It seems really important to say up front that I never, ever, blamed my siblings for what happened next. Even as a child, I recognized that the adults involved were the responsible parties. It was just another missed opportunity for our parents to help us navigate their acrimonious divorce.
I don’t recall what the girlfriend sent my brother, or even if he liked it. But that thoughtless woman gave my baby sister a used and dirty baby doll wrapped in a second-hand blanket. She was heartbroken.
Dad was furious. I’m sure that in his eyes we were being ungrateful brats, but all the joy had gone out of spending Christmas with him and we couldn’t help but start to cry.
The trip back to Mom’s house in his old pickup truck was tense and unhappy. She wasn’t expecting us back so soon, but the reunion wasn’t a pleasant one. There was a big and loud fight, and as he was leaving, she kept demanding that we tell him that we liked her presents better. We didn’t know it then, but we would never see Dad again. He never came back, never wrote or called…I guess there were a lot of hearts broken that day.
I had a really good childhood up until I was nine, then a classic case of divorce really affected me.
I grew up, and learned to adapt to all the changes that a divorce brings to a kid – except that holidays, and especially Christmas, became seasons to dread. Going to the trouble to decorate only caused angst and the Christmas tree became a symbol of loss and pain.
But Christmas isn’t about the decorations, the tree, or even the presents. The only present that matters was given over 2000 years ago, in a stable in a little town called Bethlehem.
The ghosts of Christmas past don’t have to haunt us forever.
Forgiveness is something I struggle mightily with. Forgiving the adults who let us down is a continual challenge. There’s never been a need to forgive my siblings…they were innocent children, too. Forgiving myself for wanting those dolls so badly and for feeling such anger and sorrow at how that Christmas day ended took a long time. Because I am a Christian, I am required to forgive as I’ve been forgiven. But that doesn’t make it easy.
There isn’t a magic method for releasing all that anger. I just had to choose to let it all go. I had to make a choice to reclaim Christmas, and I did it for myself. Because I really do enjoy the decorations, the tree, and the presents. I am no longer a helpless child and I can decide for myself how, and with whom I will celebrate the holidays. I can lay those old and useless ghosts aside.
I’ve reclaimed Christmas by remembering to celebrate the real reason for the season with joy and love.
Luke 2:8-12, English Standard Version
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”