Christmas is less than two days away.
The most-beloved holiday on the Christian calendar. It’s so popular, most of the Jewish people I know celebrate it, too.
I don’t think we should wield the word “magic” too lightly, but that is precisely what so many of us experienced on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning throughout our childhoods.
Do you remember that first Christmas where the magic went away?
Maybe it was whenever you stopped believing in St. Nick’s Christmas Eve rounds. Maybe it was a holiday season spent away from your family. Maybe it was after a great personal loss. Maybe it was after your family went away.
I remember my first one. It was during my last year of college, and I lived far enough away from my family where I had to leave early Christmas Eve to head back to school. On Christmas Day, my job working with special needs people required that I be at a house with mostly strangers helping to prepare Christmas dinner.
It was my first Christmas dating my ex-wife. She was home with her family. I spent Christmas Eve night alone, assembling a large DVD cabinet my parents had given to me.
I spent the day with strangers. We ate turkey and watched The Goonies. We made the best of it.
But Christmas came and went without any of the magic I’d felt my entire life.
By next Christmas, I was living in Florida. That decision murdered Christmas.
I spent that Christmas Day with a handful of new friends I’d met at the newspaper. None of us could afford to fly home to be with our families—or we were on call at the paper in case of a major news event. As the lowest members on the totem pole, some of us had to be available.
I didn’t have a Christmas tree.
We played basketball in 80-degree temperatures.
The magic was gone.
It Found Me Again
Moving back to Ohio returned a bit of magic to the season. While it was my wife’s family and not my own with whom we would celebrate, it was still family. When our son came along five years ago, it further enhanced the holidays.
Even last year, with my marriage on the rocks, Christmas brought us all together. It was—literally—the last time it felt like family with my ex-wife, son and I together.
Normalcy. Peace. Routine. Tradition. Love. Happiness.
The ever-hopeful voice that lives inside my head still whispered the possibility of unexpected Christmas blessings.
And perhaps they’ll come. I always like to say that there’s no reason to believe today won’t be the day that the best thing that ever happened to you, happens.
But as I sit here staring at the calendar, wondering where all that time went between spring when my life fell apart, and now, when I’m still firmly in wake-up-and-just-try-not-to-die mode, I feel… I’m not sure what.
Not joy. Not peace. Not magic.
But I also don’t feel horrible things.
Not despair. Not dread. Not hopeless.
I’m somewhere in between.
I’ll wake up with my son on Christmas Eve. We’ll have breakfast and I’ll take him to his mom’s.
I’ll spend the day wrapping gifts. Buying odds and ends for a small gathering of friends Christmas Eve night. Once again, a rogue group of people, away from their families, making the best of it.
Things can never be the same.
I don’t get to wake up an excited little boy on Christmas morning ever again. It’s all part of that hourglass sand moving from top to bottom.
I don’t get to wake up with my family. Drinking coffee. Eating pastries. Opening gifts. Watching A Christmas Story or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
There’s a fair chance Christmas morning brings with it a slight hangover from too many Christmas ales.
I’ll attend church alone.
I’ll spend the day picking up the pieces from the night before.
Perhaps I’ll listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat for a while, because it’s my favorite Christmas song.
Maybe I’ll watch Elf because laughing is healthy.
Maybe I’ll volunteer at a local shelter.
Maybe I’ll drink alone.
Maybe I’ll cry.
I don’t know.
I just know this is it. My new life.
And I must accept whatever comes. And just… deal.
So this is Christmas.