As much as I have enjoyed these traditions, Tom brought it to my attention a couple Christmases ago, that I don't actually enjoy Christmas. He said it so matter-of-factly that I was insulted. He just said it as plainly as if it were a fact known and accepted by all, "Well, that's because you don't like Christmas."
After my initial shock and disbelief wore off, I started thinking about how I really feel during the holiday season. In a word: sad.
I thought I was enjoying Christmas, because to a degree, I was. I enjoyed watching my kids have the kind of Christmases I wished I could have had when I was growing up. I love that my kids wake up with both of their parents in their home, and with all of their siblings, and with a sense that they are safe and loved and protected.
When you have experienced loss, tragedy, divorce, or trauma... the holidays are often a painful reminder of what, and often who, is missing. The divorce of my parents and the death of my brother happened within the same year, and those experiences really boiled down all the decorations, and gifts, and traditions, leaving only this sad reminder behind: I wanted my dad, and I wanted my brother.
I still do.
I don't know how to stop missing the people you lose.
Since Tom brought to my attention the fact that I don't like Christmas, I have worked really hard to pretend to like Christmas. It's a strange thing, not knowing that you hate something, then realizing it, then pretending to like it again. It seems easier to have just continued falsely believing I liked it. But, I have arrived at a place where I am done pretending to like Christmas.
I spent the month of October challenging myself to process and heal from the death of my brother in a productive way, by focusing on others and showing acts of kindness. I think that openly grieving for Adam allowed me to release some of what was holding me back from enjoying not only Christmas, but a lot of good things in my life.
I have felt God growing me and refining me... and I am, once again, experiencing that feeling where the decorations and gifts and traditions are being boiled down. Only this time, what remains is not just tragedy, loss, pain and grief. Now, when everything else gets boiled down, what I can finally see is a baby in a manger who changed everything.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, we sent the kids upstairs to play and would not let them come down because the local authorities were telling people in our area to stay away from windows and doors because a crazed gunman had not yet been apprehended. The man had set a car on fire to lure first responders to the scene where he then opened fire on the unsuspecting and heroic volunteer fire fighters. He killed two of these brave young men, and it is believed that he also killed his sister, whose remains have not yet been officially identified from the fire. Three other first responders were shot or inured, 7 homes were completely destroyed and 2 more homes declared unlivable.
These horrible things happened about a 30 second drive from my home, a place where my family takes walks and on the route where I go running. This shooting just hit too close to home, literally too close to my home, but also too close to my heart. I hated hearing the worry in my mom's voice and knowing that, for her, shootings are real and they can claim your child's life in an instant.
I used to think there was some sort of pain quota that we all have, and once this world has gotten its pound of flesh, it will leave you alone for the most part. This theory was based on nothing, and it makes zero sense. The more I live, the more people I know and love, and the more pain I see and experience. The truth is that there really is no quota for tragic things that one may endure in this life. There is no guarantee that you will not lose a child or a marriage. Or both in the same year.
There is no quota. We can experience unimaginable pain, and we can do it time and again in unimaginable doses. That is why we need that baby in the manger. That is the only thing I can possibly find hope in, because this world offers no promise of hope and no limit to our loss. Without that first Christmas there is no Easter, and without Easter... there's really no promise.
So, I think I am all done pretending to like Christmas. I am going to actually like it, because apart from Christmas, and Easter, and the promise of new and lasting life after this world... we ain't got nothing but a wreath and some pain. So, I will choose to celebrate Christmas next year, with unabashed joy and reckless abandon. And I will try to live in that same mindset day in and day out for 2013, hoping that Christ's message of hope will transform not only the holidays, but the regular days too.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from The Capuano Family. May your year be filled with the reality that the baby God in the manger changes every day, not just one.