I clearly remember sitting here at my desk on Christmas Eve, 2010. I wrote a “thank you” to all my friends on Facebook that night. That was my first year back here at home in Old Saybrook, CT and it was at the very beginning of this lifestyle I had set out to build and all the goals I had set out to accomplish. It was a sincere and emotional “thank you” to all the friends – new and old – who I was spending all my time with on Facebook.
But, there was no heartfelt “thank you” post Christmas Eve, 2011 or 2012. I “missed” those two Christmases because I let life and circumstances get the better of my love for Christmas and the kid’s heart inside that I usually have when it comes to my favorite holiday.
This has been a incredible few years of growth, challenge, struggle and opportunity for me. I’d rank 2012 and 2013 as a few of the most challenging of my life. I was challenged on every level these past few years.
There were reasons I wasn’t particularly inspired to write or thank anyone those past few Christmas Eves. I could list all my struggles and circumstances in detail if I was pressed to – and a lot of it would be real and legitimate. But, honestly, I don’t care anymore. What I care about is the future that I’m growing into and the people – old and new – who care about me and who I care about.
I owe thank-yous to so many. Some are timely and many are belated because you weren’t thanked in 2011 or 2012 when you should have been.
What Christmas is About…
For me, Christmas has always been about hope and excitement. I can remember some very real times over the course of my life when we didn’t have much of a Christmas – or any Christmas at all. We had many good ones, but there were some hard times sprinkled in there. There were some times – long past and more recent – where there were much heavier things on our minds than Christmas.
At some point in my early adulthood, around twenty two years old, I resolved that there would ALWAYS be a Christmas for me EVERY YEAR from there on out. By then, I felt like I was enough of an adult and was in enough control of my life to make that decision for myself. In fact, I made a tradition of it. The day after Thanksgiving I would go to this one particular garden center in the next town and buy a big, real tree. And always a premium one – you can tell by the white ribbon with the blue polka dots… I’d spend the rest of the day setting it up and decorating it – usually with a trip or two out for lights or bulbs or whatever mysteriously stopped working while in storage for the year.
The reason it was the day after Thanksgiving that the tree HAD to go up was mostly because I spent the majority of my 20’s in school and that was the one day I knew I was going to have time to do it before the end of semester craziness started and ran right to a day or two before Christmas when final exams ended.
And, so a Christmas tradition was formed. I even used to study the entire day of Thanksgiving – with a short break for dinner then right back to work – so I’d be able to have the day after Thanksgiving free to do the tree. It was a big deal to me for years.
I have a lifetime of ornaments slowly collected and memories attached to each. I have lots of “orange cats” because that’s what people tended to give me – particularly my mom. I had a little orange cat named Scrappy for 16 years and that was sort of a theme that came up a lot. Scrappy isn’t here with me physically anymore, but every year I can smile when I pull out and re-remember each orange cat ornament and all the memories attached to it. And, it reminds me of the original orange cat who was my little buddy for a long time.
So, I guess 2011 and 2012 were my adult version of those childhood days when there were no Christmases or it was a distracted, lean or dramatic one.
For my friends with families it looks to me like Christmas is all about the kids. I think that’s what Christmas is really about – the kids. It’s about family and friends too, but the kids really light up over it. I always did. At least, before I learned there wasn’t really a Santa Clause…
I guess what I’m saying here is that we all have an inner kid who still gets excited about Christmas Eve and Christmas. Maybe you live this excitement through the eyes of your own actual children. Maybe, like me, you just have an inner joy and a kid inside that loves the holiday and the time of year. It’s a thing that’s embedded deep in our culture in America and the American Christmas is uniquely it’s own. It has pieces and traditions of all the people who came to this great country to be free and have a better life and brought their own traditions with them. It’s a uniquely combined thing that reflects those who celebrated it here in freedom. (The History Channel did a great documentary on the origins of Christmas. It’s worth a watch if you’re interested…)
I don’t think Christmas is some capitalist plot or greeting card company conspiracy. I think there really is magic in this time of year and in the holiday – even if it’s just the magic of the memories we have from simpler, earlier and better times.
New Traditions and Old Ones to Bring Back…
This year and last, I just put up a little, fake tree with only a few of my very favorite ornaments. The year before I didn’t even have a tree.
This is my tree for Christmas 2013…
The stocking hanging I’ve had for as long as I can remember and it’s hung in only two other homes. Right on the front of the tree is an orange cat in a Santa hat with a tag that was personalized “Scrappy” and there’s a whole life’s timeline hung on the rest of the tree – almost 40 years worth. It goes on right down to the red Corvette ornaments – that I have two because my girlfriend at the time got me the same one I got myself because she knew how much I love and covet the Corvette. The two Corvette ornaments always go on the tree. I don’t care that they’re duplicates.
Besides the thank-you, this post is, I now realize, my own promise to myself to have a real Christmas from here on out. It’s a reaffirmation of that promise I made to the little kid inside who missed out on a few Christmases because the grown up world was too messed up to slow down and just play and be happy for the sake of sanity and life and being thankful for what we had.
Those times I thought were so difficult and stressful then weren’t anything compared to things that came later. Opening presents with my family and a significant other of 5 years was a joy and a snapshot in time I’ll never have again. Coffee and presents with my father and grandfather and that girlfriend will never be here again. Ever. I’m glad I had what I had and I’m glad I did things right for Christmas when I could in years past.
So, for me, this is the last year of rushing to put up a little, fake tree because a big one is “too much work” and “I don’t have the time.” This is the last year of not enjoying the day after Thanksgiving as the “tree day” and looking forward to it. I’ve made my own Christmas and my family has had its own traditions for years now. This is the last year I’ll have been “too busy” to do it right.
There are people who may not be with us next year and others who may be new to our Christmases next year.
So, if you’re enjoying this fun and wonderful – and uniquely American – holiday, good. Enjoy it because life is short and nothing lasts forever. People grow, change and enter or exit our lives. Make the most of it because little will be the same – including your family traditions – as time goes on. Everything grows and evolves in it’s own time and just the way it’s supposed to.
And, if this Christmas is a difficult one for you, I hear you and I understand. I’ve been there. I know. Try to remember the good times from the past and look forward to a better future. But don’t loose the present. Love, honor and remember those who aren’t with us and find joy in that memory and the lifetime of memories Christmas represents to you, personally.
It’s funny, sometimes the times that seemed so “complicated” at the time can be the ones we look back to later as the ones that were the most fun. I have a few that I’d gladly return to and embrace those who were there then and who aren’t here now.
If you’re in my life today – the real one or the virtual one – thank you for being there and Merry Christmas. I hope – and plan – that the Christmas Eve post you read from me next year will have a REAL tree in it and you and I are looking back at a wonderfully healthy, happy, successful and abundant 2014. In my original 2010 post, I actually used the same bacon Christmas tree image I have on this post. I think – just like the movie “A Christmas Story” that’s become a modern Christmas Day tradition – I’m going to make the “bacon tree” the one that goes on the Christmas Eve post every year. See, a new tradition is born…
Thank you for being in my life on this Christmas Eve, thank you for reading this and I wish you and yours all the best in everything this coming year.
PS: I want to specifically give my condolences to the Jenkins Family. World’s Strongest Man competitor Mike Jenkins passed away suddenly on Thanksgiving Day, 2013 and my heart and prayers go out to Keri and the rest of his family.