Sunday, November 8, 2009

The real meaning of Christmas

An interesting question posed for this week's challenge, set by BlogThis. It is one I've actually asked myself many times during festive seasons over the years. Only when we lost everything (in 2004) that truly meant anything to us did I really *get* the whole concept of giving thanks and forgiving others' trespasses from throughout the previous year.

I wrote about "the meaning of Christmas" in my old blog, just before Christmas 2005. Retrospectively, I was being decidedly cynical but attempting to lace it with 'umour, as had become my method of survival during that period of my life. I wrote:

Another year of wondering what it's all about.

K: So what is it, anyway? Is it about the kids?
S: Nah.
K: No, I mean, it started with the birth of Christ and all...
S: That's the story.
K: ...but the tradition now is for the children. Yes, it's totally over-commercialised and it's possibly taken for granted by many. But for the kids, it's still exciting to see their families all together at once, isn't it?
S: Yeah.
K: And forgiveness. It's such a crock that warring people have to 'put it all aside' to spend Christmas together. Look at WWI, WWII. The story is famous, how they put down their weapons and had a spot of turkey together. What's with THAT?
[Thinking: But maybe that's it, maybe without Christmas and that one day's grace from grievances, there isn't any other time to take a breather from all the sadness that goes with fighting and disharmony]
S: *continues driving in silence*
K: So then... what is the meaning of Christmas? What's it all about?
S: *decidedly, as if he had just been waiting for me to shut up and ask him* The food.
K: Huh?
S: It's about the food.
K: What!??
S: When else do you get to have yummy ham and yummy turkey? And that stuffing?
K: It's..... about..... the food....
S: *quite pleased with himself* Yuh.

I wrote this post at the end of the second, most arduous, year after losing Ella. We had done our NICU stint for 31 relatively very short days (although it was, literally, a lifetime we spent there with our firstborn) the previous year, in 2004. The first Christmas without her was spent cradling my sore belly from a termination we had to contend with (this one at 10 weeks) the day before Christmas Eve. For fear of my family dismissing Ella, or thoughts of her, I didn't tell them. In fact, we downplayed the whole thing, because that first Christmas was meant to be her first. Our first, as parents.

It was our first Christmas as parents, technically. Except there were no presents for our little 11 month old baby girl under anyone's tree.

By the end of 2005, I knew that the pettiness was not going to stop. A second year filled with my own growing anger and cynicism, coupled with an equally measured confirmation by others that there were going to be no special favours or allowances handed out to me or Steve, had shown how far open the chasm could grow between us and our loved ones.

The meaning of Christmas was lost in amongst the taste of an awfully bitter pill. I flayed myself that second year, in 2005, for not being more "up". A well-meaning and gorgeous family friend took me aside and said, "What are you doing all this for? Don't you know, you are so vital?" The intention was genuine, but it left me feeling even more alone, for I was not doing anything on purpose. I was simply surviving at this time, still, two years on.

It was an incredibly stifling time, I felt gagged from airing my feelings anymore, for apparently the use-by date on how often I was "allowed" to bring up Ella's name had long passed. For me and for Steve, so much of what we were expressing and how we were interacting with people was done through a filter of immense grief. Of a core-deep fear that we would never again be able to come close to filling the hole our daughter had left in our lives. We had another baby on board that Christmas in 2005, but even she did not comfort in the way a new beginning ought. For we had been there before, so many, many times (the LGBB was our 10th pregnancy and, so far, she remains our only surviving child).

I've spent more Christmases feeling hopeful in my life than not, though, all this moroseness aside. Even during my years of attempting to conceive (no less than six), it marked the beginning of a new start. A fresh year just around the corner that maybe, this year, would be "our year" and we'd be parents by the end of it.

Christmas was such a magical time in my childhood. I truly loved it. I loved the presents, I loved the food, I ADORED sitting with my Granddad and his silly, sweaty paper hat at their table for a post-Christmas (Boxing Day) feast. My Grandma made the best stuffing. My parents (I think it was mostly Mum) made Christmas pretty magical too. They did their best. There was a lot of fighting too. A lot. But I have tended to shut that out over the years, because overall, Christmas has always been a season with an energy of renewal about it.

Replenishment, restocking and renewal.

So. Back to the Challenge.

What does Xmas mean to you and your family?
Have you got some traditions??
What will you cook?!
Who will you spend it with?
Got a favourite Christmas memory?
How are you decorating??

We don't have any traditions. These were all blown out of the water over the various breaking downs of our family/ies over the years. Not noice, no, but real. And just how it is.
We are unfortunately not going to decorate this year. We've a bit of Topsy-Turvy Land going on here at the moment, with the house extension in full swing. So if I have to see one more bit of clutter (and this year, the Humbug in me has come out on this one), even if it is in the shape of a glorious bit of tinsely ornament, I will cry.
I don't know what I'm cooking (or if I will), nor who we're spending it with. Our habit over the past five years has been to darken the doorstep of our gorgeous inlaws, once removed... my brothers' inlaws, to be exact. A more welcoming home, with better company or food, you would be hard-pressed to find. I hope the invite is extended again this year. If it's not, well, we have a new room now! So it might hopefully be finished into some state of readiness for a barbie and we can return the 'favour'!

What does Christmas mean to me? Outside the obvious reminiscent markers of being pregnant, grieving a lost pregnancy or then - the big one - realising everyone else's children were getting older and their lives were progressing and their presents tastes were changing?

It means closing in around those people and things that are important to you and letting them in to surround you too.
It means not rushing around with the best prepared plate of food or the cleanest floors or the widest smile.
It means gathering with those who are truly your kindred kind (and this is not necessarily family).
It means stopping and playing with the children in your life instead of standing in the kitchen and lamenting all that you have to do (or that this feels like any other day to you, just with more food to prepare).
It means copious amounts of belly-full laughter.
It means realigning yourself with your partner (if all the time they really take is over Christmas/New Year).
It means Meet Me In St Louis (a MUST for me each festive season, even through the hard ones, has been to watch this movie, ever since I was about 11 years old and my cousins introduced me to it once on a visit from Perth to our place)
It means wandering around our neighbourhood looking at Christmas lights - now that was a moment (last Christmas when we did it for the first time with our then 2.5yo) when I knew I was a parent... we had a ball and the three of us came home so full from our walk :)
It means cracking out my beloved oldies Christmas tunes by Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and the likes (love, love, love the old and big band festive stuff!)
It means tipsy giggles with the womenfolk in their kitchens.
It means wandering out to a grassy lawn to play volleyball or totem tennis or some other ball game with the menfolk and the kids (one and the same, in my experience, usually!).
It means happiness that makes your heart swell.

And it always, always, means hope for another, better, year.

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