I am writing this letter to tell you how I feel. I have been bottling up these emotions for most of my adult life. It is time to show up and tell my truth to you.
To put it bluntly: I love you and I hate you.
The early years with you were so memorable. We would get together with my mom and make wheat-germ and whole-wheat cookies in your honor. (Just because you were in the room didn’t mean she was going to give up her health fanatic ways.)
We would go with my dad to cut trees together, a memory I still hold close to my heart now that he’s gone.
When I was a teenager, Christmas, we were so mischievous with each other. Every year I would get the big box of presents from Aunt Susan. My parents were divorced then, so it was my responsibility to wrap her presents for the family. Inevitably, Aunt Susan would give my brother Will really nice pairs of jeans, and I would get shorts sewn together to a tank top like a 90s teenage onesie. We would wrap the jeans and write on the tag that Aunt Susan gave them to me. Sometimes we’d even give the onesie to my brother. We would laugh. In fact, we were laughing all the way.
But then I started getting older. College passed, and I still didn’t have a family of my own. The gift of a family was still there, wrapped with a bow, under the tree. But I wasn’t allowed to open it yet. For years, my anticipation would grow like a child on Christmas Eve. “Maybe it will be this year!” I would think. But years passed, and that present was still there, unopened. I grew from excitement to frustration to barely even caring any more.
During that season I would go to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for Christmas since they were the closest thing I had to my own family. Will and I would put on puppet shows for my nephews and niece, complete with Latino accents, while singing No Tacos For Christmas. The kids would belly laugh for a full hour. I loved it because I loved them. But I also kind of hated it because it made me want my own kids so much.
Years passed. You sang “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” to me over and over and over again. And then you would sing it some more. On the radio, in the mall, on TV. “Please, please get a new song!” I would yell at you. It drove me crazy. That’s when I really started to hate you.
But then you would quietly sing “Silent Night” to me, candles lit, with all our friends around, and it would never get old. I would start to love you again.
Every year, I would love your season, because I had friends to be with and parties to go to and concerts to put on.
I would love thinking about the incredible miracle of the incarnation—that the God who could not be contained by eternity placed himself in a little baby so we could hold him close to our hearts.
I loved that. So much. It gave me hope. It made me realize I wasn’t alone.
And in that space, I would almost love you again. But then your actual day would come, and every single time it would make me feel so lonely. I would have to scramble to find somewhere to go. This was the day that you would remind me, more than any day of the year, that I didn’t have a husband, that I didn’t have kids. It felt like you were scoffing at me.
I would love to tell you that I have finally learned to love you. I would love to tell you that remembering Jesus is enough for me to feel peaceful again. I would love to tell you that I like fruitcake.
All those things are true and not true at the same time. For the most part, I am more peaceful than I used to be. I see that gift of a family, still wrapped under the tree, and I am not as angry that I can’t open it yet. I have even accepted that I might not ever open it. I am not happy about it, but I am seeing more and more that I can still have a beautiful life.
But then, after all that emotional work is done and all that acceptance occurs, something happens. Like when I watch the kids at my after-school program exploding with excitement and anticipation, and I wish I could have my own children doing the same thing. Like when I see a couple kiss under the mistletoe. Like when I am shuffled around to households by people whole love me, but am painfully aware that I am not in their first circle of family. I can’t help but feel like a nuisance at times.
So Christmas, I can’t tell you that I will ever come to love you. Perhaps it’s good for me to choose to love the beautiful side of you as much as possible. Perhaps I should let myself grieve the bad parts of you and not be frustrated at myself for being sad. It’s okay to love you, and it’s okay to hate you.
As Cheryl Strayed says, “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go.
“Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
P.S. I really appreciate that you stopped singing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” so much. I see that you have tried so hard by replacing it with the more “modern” Mariah Carey song, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” But I have news for you: 1994 is not modern. And that song is getting almost as annoying as the other one.