Christmas will never be the same, but it doesn’t have to be bad…
As far back as I can remember Christmas was always a big deal. My mom loved the way the Christmas spirit made you feel, it was a holiday meant for those with a giving heart like hers. Christmas lights, hot chocolate, always a fire in the fire place and Christmas Vacation on VHS were staples of my childhood. Things change, we age, people move, people pass and yet Christmas happens every year; a celebration of life and a time to cherish those we hold dearest.
Christmas changes because after all it isn’t just a time of year. It’s a time of heart. This year as I unpack my Christmas village, I reminisce about how each piece came into my life. There is the Candy Shoppe that was a gift from my parents when I turned 18. The Toy School with a capital “A” on the top that when put together with other establishments would spell SANTA. They were gifts for my future life - to start my own tradition that would be filled with the same excitement each year of unpacking and creating each little snowy town. The memories of each childhood Christmas, the wonder and magic that is carefully unboxed to decorate your heart and take over your spirit. 25 days just doesn’t seem long enough. Yet for some, without wonder, 25 days feels like forever.
Just as I remember how each little structure landed in my town, I remember vividly the year the town from my childhood ceased to exist, all the wonder and excitement staying packed away. What happens to the Christmas spirit locked away? Does it melt into thin air or simply wait for you to accept it into your heart again? Will the box be opened and fill you with all the love from Christmas past, or will stale air remind you of what was lost?
My brother died suddenly in 2012 and my mom could not bear to open those boxes without him here. I continued to put together my own tiny town, bought gifts for those I loved and decorated appropriately. Christmas became a schedule, decorate, buy, open. And just like that Christmas was over. Cold and truly unwelcome, time to tear it all down. I tried to recreate the magic for my own daughter, wanting her to feel it in her soul the way I had for so many years. Little did I know you can’t decorate the soul. You have to capture it and hold on tight. I was going about it all wrong.
Just 3 short years after losing my brother, my mom was killed by her husband, the man who had raised me, the father of my brother, the Santa of my childhood. Its terrifying how we can know and not know someone at all. I didn’t celebrate Christmas in 2015. I did not decorate, drag the tree from the basement, light up the front of the house, or unbox my village. I couldn’t. I never could capture that spirit the way my mom had and now I simply wouldn’t. Ever.
We went away for Christmas to be with family, to find some stability in the chaos and confusion that had become our present, to let others be the holiday for my daughter when I just couldn’t be. When we returned home, there was snow on the ground, there were lights on homes, and yet our house was cold and dark and sad. My heart didn’t know how to ever celebrate again. But, I knew I couldn’t depend on others forever. My daughter would eventually need me to fake it until the Christmas spirit infiltrated her soul. She deserved it and my mom would expect me to continue to celebrate the holiday she and my brother loved so much. Celebrate a holiday of love because I loved those I had lost so much, that living in the dark wasn’t an option. It was like God spoke to me himself, isn’t that what Christmas is? A celebration of life, a life that was given to us but at the expense of another. Could I truly bring this spirit to life despite so much loss? No, no I cannot, but because of loss I can celebrate life, love, spirit, and Christmas. The saying is so true, you really don’t know what you have until its gone, but that doesn’t mean let your soul go too. Find your spirit, in everything around you, in the hardest moments, in the darkest nights, its there if you let it find you.
When I finish opening the last of my own carefully packed away homes and businesses, each in its own protective casing to preserve all the beauty they hold, I move to the next tote. This one has no protective Styrofoam and sleeves, this is not my village. Each of these tiny creations in bubble wrap belonged in a different town, in another home, and my mind drifts back to a time when preserving this town was somewhat of a disaster relief in all walks of my life. I had been working on cleaning out my mom’s house as I was getting it ready to sell it, going through each and every item alone. It was exhausting, mentally and physically. Who else would know which memory I had stored away in my mind and which I would need to physically hold? No one but my brother and he could only be there in spirit.
Moving from the house to the shed, I came to an old computer box covered in bugs and mouse waste, the corners chewed off. What could be inside packed away so haphazardly, with little concern or care? As I opened the box, I start to see glimpses of the snowy escapes of my memories - all the wonder and spirit still sitting in the windows waiting to be welcomed into a home, a heart. The cases destroyed from years of sitting, and critters trying to take their own piece of wonder. Some of the pieces were not salvageable and were just too far damaged. For days I meticulously cleaned the remaining pieces, packing them back up with all the care and bubble wrap I could muster up. My heart breaking a little with each sign of damage, wondering if it would be enough to keep the magic safe.
Memories are sometimes lived over and over. They are the most important moments even if they are the hardest. Its where growth happens, a tiny garden in an abandoned town. Feeling these moments over again as I meticulously unwrap each little home from another place, another time, there is history in every white glittery rooftop. I unroll each one to feel all the magic and Christmas spirit waiting for me to turn on the light. Waiting for me to plug each one in my heart and know that at the end of every Christmas, good or bad, the Christmas spirit returns to my tiny town now three times larger. Its not about the packaging, its about the love and care, the giving more than receiving, wonder and magic inside each of us. Christmas will never be the way I remember it from my childhood, but I wouldn’t want it to. Growing and changing is what we are meant to do, the spirit of Christmas evolves with you, you just have to plug it in.
- by Danielle Brandon, my very best friend, an amazing mother, Puppy Mahm, wife and all around good hooman
Here are her sweet pups, Guinness, Stout & Porter, and cat/dog Jack!