When I was growing up, Christmas was a mixed blessing. Christmas Eve, all four of my grandparents visited. My teenage aunt and uncle came over as well. Everyone had gifts, and it would have been very fun except Grandpa was often roaring drunk, dressed as Santa and bearing gifts. He was jolly, though, and I wasn’t sure why my mother was so upset. Which made my father a bit upset. One year, Grandpa went to the wrong house and distributed our gifts to the neighbor’s children. That night began with hope and ended in tears.
By Christmas morning all that drama was forgotten. My memories of Christmas Day are of waking up to a Shirley Temple dream. Beautiful dolls and wonderful toys spread around the tree and all about the living room. There was no space where a toy was not. Nothing was gift-wrapped and my presents were in the middle of the room, with my brothers’ to each side. As the only girl, I knew what was mine. The little kitchen table and chairs, the sweet easy bake oven, with real cake mixes. The dolls, the velvet dresses, the necklaces and bracelets and the satin-lined box that opened to a twirling ballerina.
Christmas morning was always the best morning of the year. It’s why, despite knowing it’s not true, I still sometimes equate gifts with love, money with love, abundance with love. As a young single mom, I tried very hard to duplicate those Christmases for my own children. With very little money for gifts, I tried my best. I went into debt, even. I’m not poor anymore, but when I was, I could not afford to pay off my debt, so I stayed under its steady thumb, struggling just to pay the outrageous interest so my boys could have a semblance of what I thought of as a magical Christmas.
Christmas is why I became a romance writer. When life is too stressful, too harsh, too much to take, I make another world. One that can be difficult but always ends with the feeling of Christmas morning and its beautiful treasures. I remember that feeling and it’s what I went for in my HEAs, every month of the year. Now that I write crime fiction, there’s still that satisfying ending when the criminal is captured and the world is set right again.
When I’m not writing, I have other December ways to deal with unromantic reality. I watch Christmas movies, read Christmas novels, listen to Christmas music and deck the halls. I keep the tree lit and a fire burns all day long. There is absolutely nothing in my contract with life that says I have to remember the bad Christmases, like when my sweet granny died early one Christmas morning. I only found out when I got to her hospital room for a visit and found her bed stripped, the room devoid of flowers.
That year, and the next, my husband left me home alone so he could visit his family. And I was really alone because my boys were with their father almost every Christmas. He and I wanted to give the boys as much security and continuity as possible, so, most years I had Christmas Eve and he had Christmas Day. Sometimes, when I was home alone on Christmas, I went to visit Granny at the cemetery. I realize life is full of suffering much deeper than my own personal sorrows. Somehow, despite my own sadnesses, I mostly manage to find the holiday sweet spot, which is a feeling and not a place.
Psychology and science now know why bad memories are easier to remember than good ones. The bad times, the sad times, cut a painful impression with which sweeter moments cannot compete. Painful memories remain vivid because they are an evolutionary tool; they keep an awareness of possible danger, learned from experience, front and center to ensure survival. Just knowing this cheers me up and makes me more determined to celebrate life while I’m here.
We don’t have to fall in with those deeper impressions of pain. We don’t have to drown in them. I know several ways to beat the rough hand with which life often slaps us. I write down the good memories, I create new ones, or discover those written by others and read them over and over. Eventually, they replace the painful stuff, which these days I am adept at kicking away before it stomps me down.
People make fun of romance, or the sentimentality of Christmas. Many bemoan the commercial aspects of the holiday season, but that’s okay. I know many suffering Scrooges. I don’t wish to join their chorus. I would rather be happy baking cookies. Music, movies, reading and writing also help make the season bright. During the holidays, I like to sip hot chocolate by the fire and think about all the blessings in my life. Now that I’m older, I don’t need lots of gifts under the tree to feel good. My thoughts dwell on happy times, like Christmas visits with my own grandchildren.
My wish for readers of this blog is that you, too, can be filled with the magic of this season. xo