I Hate Christmas!!!

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“I hate Christmas!”

The first time I heard these words, I was shocked. How could anyone hate Christmas? My startled ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Curiosity getting the better of me, I just had to start asking people, “Why do you hate Christmas?” And, boy, did the answers startle me just as much.

One person said, “I hate the greed of it all. We have overstuffed and over-privileged people running around becoming more stuffed and more privileged as though nothing in the world outside their bubble even exists.”

I could grasp this. Having seen one too many fur coated parcel bearing woman or man walk right in front of me as though I didn’t exist to step into their spanking new Mercedes has left me gob smacked more than once. It always strikes me odd that we have people on one side of the globe worrying about their cottages or multiple homes while those on the other side of the globe have none.  I believe some over privileged could take a page out of J.K. Rowling’s book of life on the matter of “giving back.” So, I could relate and told this person so. But that still wouldn’t make me hate Christmas, it is not Christmas’s fault people behave poorly, as some humans do.

Another person said every Christmas just reminds her of all the people she no longer has to celebrate it with, her parents and a sister all passed on before her. Even though she is long married with kids of her own, she said Christmas still feels hollow to her without her loved ones, her memories still hurt her and cause her sorrow instead of gladdening her heart.

This I can understand, too. This is also why I say “love your people fastly, you never know how long you will have them for.” Telling those you love that you love them as often as possible is the only remedy I know of to honor those already gone on. It takes time for the healing of memory and we need to go gentle on ourselves until we are there. Making the most of our moments, even in the face of sorrow, is the only thing that ever works for me, helps me realize all we ever really have is here and now.

Another said it is a horrible time of year when families gather to watch relatives get tanked to the gills while everything from arguing about how to make the gravy or who can out arm wrestle one another turns into a free for all brawl that pretty much lasts until the New Year. I don’t do Christmas anymore, she said. I hide away telling people I am away or I actually go away, even if only to the next town over, anyplace I don’t have to be part of all that squabbling and annual bitterness.

This I can also understand. While most of my childhood memories of Christmas are happy, not all of them are. Too much drinking by too many adults who didn’t learn to control themselves properly blurred over some of our childhood Christmases. Seems their arguing was far more important to them than us kids, standing around looking distressed and confused because, hey, what happened to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

While other answers included “commercialization” or exclusion, the one that came up time and again was people feeling lonely. They didn’t feel a “part of the holiday” because they weren’t part of a “unit.” There are other reasons people hate Christmas, I am sure, but not being part of a family or a couple or a close knit group really strikes some hard at Christmas more than any other time of the year.

I can understand this as well. Not everyone has the good fortune to have family, be in a couple or be part of a close knit group. There were a couple of Christmases I sat the day out. Just listened to music, made myself toast with peanut butter, tea, ate oranges and read. It was really okay and I was glad I did it. Joining in on anything during those particular Christmases would have meant some hurting in some way or another and I needed to avoid that. And I did.

Is spending Christmas alone something that works for everyone? Probably not. Most of us are happier when we engage with others, if only briefly. Still, whether we are missing a loved one who has passed on or a long term relationship has ended, many are left alone to try and make the most of what can be a very trying time of year. As a huge supporter of allowing humans to feel what they feel, to process their feelings and sometimes just let them be, I personally know the pain of trying to “shut it all off” for the sake Christmas.

While I can’t say much to ease that kind of pain or longing, I can appreciate a hatred of Christmas and even join in with a hateful word or two of my own.

I hate Christmas for you. I hate that there is nothing I can do to make your Christmas better. I hate that there is nothing I can say to change your loneliness, exclusion, frustrations or sorrows. I hate that greed and commercialization rule the Christmas roost, too.

I, too, long for the day when gathering fragrant bows from the woods to place around the home while sharing a festive meal in a cozy setting is the priority instead of losing days to the mall and running ourselves ragged for what will barely be a blip on the screens of our lives. I hate that for all we humans think we have advanced, we often still sink to the nearest common denominator when it comes to all the Christmas hype.

So, there it is. I hate Christmas, too. But I also love some things no one can take away and these things will always move me no matter what else is or is not going on. The music and the faerie lights (as my mum-in-law called them) have always touch my heart and, as I find myself breaking into song, a tear or two may fall because the loved one I once sang this song with is no longer here.

As the days grow darker and the long black nights almost punishing, I love seeing the cheering faerie lights everywhere. They remind me of all the love and light there is in the world in spite of all the greedy, over-privileged and selfish humans. The lights remind me that humans don’t have to stay that way, that we, too, can change our “colors” if we want to or “twinkle” a little brighter for a kindness we extend to another. Hating Christmas might be the very thing that sparks a new tradition, a better way of being in the world that others may follow. There is always hope.

And I hope for those of you who hate Christmas that you will find something all your own this year and claim it. Taking a walk in the snow with camera in hand for unique and memorable nature captures, ordering a festive drink in the local coffee house with no handheld gadget going – just sitting sipping quietly to enjoy people watching or listening, borrowing a library book you might never have chosen before and reading the entire volume over Christmas, calling some people you miss for a phone visit, inviting another who will be alone to join you for the day or part of the day, going to see a movie, anything, it doesn’t have to be big or costly, just something all yours you decide to do. Who knows, it might just erode that hatred of Christmas enough that you will find yourself enjoying yourself.

This is my Christmas wish for you. Merry Christmas Everyone. Wishing you all hope filled hearts and peaceful souls.

❤ ❤ ❤

© Janni Styles

 

 

 

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Pears Soap Christmas

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On a recent outing with a friend I spotted Pears Soap at the Dollar Store and cleaned them out of the remaining three bars in the bin. Pears is a comforting soap, a soap my mother often gave me at Christmas and on my birthday because she knew my skin couldn’t take much else.

Once, after a major surgery, I came home from the hospital unable to use any of the soaps we had in the house including Pears. My skin broke out in giant hives and itched no end until I tried a soap my mum-in-law used to use: Camay Pink. For some reason I could not use that soap in the past at all but after my surgery Camay Pink was all I could use without breaking out. That was short lived as two months after my surgery, I broke out again and back to Pears I went and all was well.

I have had a blemish on my left cheek for a couple of weeks. Usually a little peroxide would fix that but this was stubborn and refused to budge. Newly purchased Pears Soap in hand, I washed my face in the morning and at night for two days. The blemish completely vanished and was no longer red and angry looking.  Pears to the rescue yet again. I think I will continue using it now because I am noticing my skin looks better over all, wintry, blotchy redness no more.

The Pears tin in the picture is a recent find for 75 cents. The same friend who was with me at the Dollar Store urged me to buy it and it didn’t take much before I was checking out and happy with my thrift store treasure. My goal is to fill it up with Pears Soap but I don’t have enough bars yet so will be scouting about to do that.

Pears soap is clear, almost as clear as a crystal ball. And in it I see happy memories of a mother gifting her daughter with a wee treasure. In the fragrance I am triggered back to opening and using Pears soap from my mother. Every time I use my newly opened bar of Pears Soap I see my mother in the mirror, looking back at me and telling me how pure Pears soap is.  The color of gold, the fragrance of pure and the timeless message of love all in one little bar of Pears Soap.

(c) Janni Styles

The Butter Papers

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When I was a child it never occured to me how precious a simple thing as a butter wrapper could be.  As I began to crumple one to toss it in the garbage one day, my mother’s voice halted me in my tracks.

“Ah, ah, ah, what are you doing with that? I need that, don’t throw it away. ”

Suddenly my knowledge of butter papers grew exponentially as I witnessed the many uses for them. Butter and margarine wrappers were used to grease the bread pans, to line a frying pan before the eggs were cracked into it and to butter the cookie sheets at Christmas time.

It wasn’t long before I learned to carefully fold those papers and set them in the fridge if they weren’t used right away. It also wasn’t long before I found myself calling out to younger siblings in the same way my mother had done to me.  I was a fast learner and carried the butter paper practise into my marriage where I stopped my then husband from tossing out the butter papers. He never did learn how precious they could be.

Many times I would wind up with a little stack of butter papers in my fridge. Working outside the house full time while running it pretty much singlehandedly left little time for baking. It was easier to buy our baked goods. Even now, living single, I don’t bake much or often.

Still, today I laid a butter paper aside on the counter.  Just in case.

Butter papers represent childhood memories of being in warm aromatic country kitchens where the women made the work of caring for their families look easy.  Butter papers remind me of my mother’s hands always working to take care of us.

It was easy to see why, later in life, my mother tired of cooking. Having so many children to tend to for so many years likely wore that desire out.  She was happy to have others cook for her and even wanted us to. And we did.

Some habits die hard. Even though I don’t use them anymore, I still fold and set aside the butter papers. I likely always will. Tossing them out seems wasteful but I know it is about more than that.  Tossing out the butter papers means saying goodbye to memories I will never make again, memories of fragrant Christmas baking fresh from the oven and sharing it all with family who loved being a family.

The butter papers will always trigger these memories in me, memories of simpler, slower times when what mattered could not be bought.

What triggers Christmas memories for you?

(C) Janni Styles

 

Grief at Christmas: How about just being Human?

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Every time a special occasion is pending, a certain birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or another Christmas, I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach about how I will handle it without those loved ones who have already passed on. Christmas is one of the toughest times of year for many of us living with invisible illnesses whether they be mental, emotional or physical.

One of the first feelings to follow that awful “boot to the stomach sensation” is a sense of, well, I guess it is called “shame.” Shame that I can’t just buck up and join in, shame that I need to take time out to have a little cry in the bathroom, shame that while everyone is toasting and cheering and jollying along I fight back the tears and an urge to flee all things overwhelmingly festive.

Why should we be ashamed of having any feelings at any time of the year? The answer is we should not feel ashamed of having our feelings, whatever and whenever they may be. Sometimes just gently allowing those feelings to pass through us is the only way out of the emotional funk we may find ourselves in during special occasions and celebrations. Sometimes the feeling won’t pass because the loss is so recent, we are grappling with such a an excruciating range of normal human emotions, we just have to live through it somehow in our own ways no matter the outside pressures.

The first Christmas without a loved one is, I find, always the worst. Every ornament they made or every tradition they participated in feels so hollow without them. That feeling intensified for me the more people told me “get with it” or “get over it” or “you just have to go on.” Advice like this is best ignored because it is so negating and disrespectful of not just the loved one we are trying to cope without but of ourselves and our feelings as though we have no right to have or process our own emotions.

The right to process our own emotions is something we are all entitled to.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Usually people behave in invalidating ways just because our mood or what we are doing does not fit in with their agenda. There is no excuse for that kind of insensitivity that can feel so like abuse to the tender, still grieving heart.

My solution is not a panacea, I have no answers for anyone other than myself. What I found myself doing was “little celebrations” between the seeming unstoppable tears I had to just let go of. These little celebrations were usually nothing anyone else could see or notice. It was about me coming to terms with a raft of special occasions ahead of me to get through.

Recently I attended a huge family dinner of 22 people and found myself twice needing and taking time to myself. I stepped outside and just stood there covered by the roof of the restaurant entry way, watching the rain fall and breathing slow, deep breaths while I thought of everyone gone before me. In the puddles, some as big as small ponds, I saw all the light being reflected back, the store lights, the street lights and the Christmas lights.

In those reflections I began to see that no matter what happens to us, no matter how many losses, the light was being doubled and tripled and shining back brightly no matter what. This little comfort was enough to get me back inside the door to join the party I was with and carry on.  After the dinner I took a teary bathroom time out and was heartened by the Christmas music playing, it seemed, to my soul, as the speakers released one of my mother’s favorite Christmas Carols. These are the little comforts I try to find everywhere, songs or sights that resonate with my soul and let me know it is okay to enjoy these things, to even be happy about them and perhaps even sing along if I am able to.

There is, in my opinion, no greater success than finding your own way through the dark grip of grief. While there is no one size fits all, we can all do things or enjoy things in memory of those we love. The very thing you find yourself teary about may be what also lifts your heart and lets you honor the memory of your loved ones. For me, giving back is always a way through these tough emotions because I can do it in honor of a loved one. Putting a toy under the local charity tree or just dropping some coins in the bell ringers kettle in honor of my loved ones went a long way to helping me come to terms with my losses.

Even in the falling of snow, that first magical snow that colors all things white and bright, I can hear my mother saying how she had to hurry to get the laundry in off the line before it froze stiff as boards while my father lamented the crazy drivers out there who still tried to drive like the roads were dry. Hearing those familiar voices in our heads or singing along to their favorite songs are just a couple of ways to celebrate those gone before us.

Take your time, take a breather or take a whole evening or day to yourself, whatever it takes for you to feel calm and able to face the festivities again. Finding what gives us comfort is such a gift to our own hearts, we need only to stay open to recognizing and receiving those little gifts, whatever form they may take.

Does this mean we won’t be sad or shedding tears through the events or holiday? No, it means the opposite. We are allowed to be sad or shed tears if we need to. We are all, after all, only human.

Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful Christmas.

(c) Janni Styles

 

 

 

Doing “Single” over the Holidays, can it be done with grace?

When I first left my long marriage one of the things I immediately noticed was a decline in invitations especially where couples and women were concerned. I could see a bit of why the couples might stop inviting me since we had all socialized as a foursome and there was a hole in the works that could not be stopped.  What shocked me was the number of women friends who just dropped away, no calls, no invites, no making sure I was not alone on special occasions as I had done with them when they were single over the years.

While I can think of no plausible explanation for those adults who behaved in less than graceful ways, I can tell you what it is like to be single over the holidays as in recent years I, myself, spent solo.

  1. Mark your calendar. Know that you will have more time on your hands and make plans for it. Plan to see the free events in your area, choirs singing, holiday displays, Christmas plays at the schools, parades or musical events. Every community has some of these and you may think going alone sad but I can tell you from doing so that it was far from sad. The singers gladdened my heart and nobody was there to chatter my ear off or otherwise interrupt these magical moments of mine and mine alone.
  2. Give back. I know, I know, everyone says this and the last thing you may feel like doing when you are lonely over the holidays is giving anyone anything. Even if you are flat broke, you can find a way to give to others less fortunate. A friend of mine serves dinner in the local men’s shelter on Christmas Day. When I had it, I spent $20 on grab bags at a local women’s store. These grab bags each contained four or five sets of jewelry suited to teens along with socks, hairbands and other little items that translated to 15 or 20 gifts I donated to a local charity Christmas Drive. I know teens are the hardest to find gifts for at Christmas from working in the non-profit sector and this was, to me, just a great thing to be able to do. But you don’t need to have new items. I have a friend who collects clothing and donations for the local animal shelter, a place often abandoned over Christmas but the needs are high all year round. A friend’s daughter buys 50 or 100 hamburgers at McDonald’s and passes them out to hungry strangers on the street. Pass a street person a coat you no longer wear, the ideas are endless and unlimited for finding ways to help those less fortunate. And somehow, in the midst of the giving, we receive an “afterglow” of our good deeds that translates to a little more joy for ourselves.
  3. Indulge yourself. Whether it is a marathon of watching your favorite series on Netflix, spending a whole day in your pj’s or having some treats you normally don’t allow yourself, or all three, just pamper yourself.  Because, alone or not, you are so worth it. And this is the sort of thing we tell one another in times of needing comfort so why not apply it to ourselves.
  4. Mingle. You may feel like a fifth wheel when invited to holiday gatherings and simply decline. That may be what you are most comfortable doing and that’s okay, too. If you accept (which I did because, hey, why not?), don’t focus on being alone, focus on being “together” and make a point of asking polite questions of people you don’t even know. You may make a new life long friend or find yourself with a terrific job offer, you just never know what may come of a simple gracious connection over the holidays. I once ran into a woman who had interviewed me for a job I didn’t get despite making it through every level of the screening process. I asked her why she didn’t hire me and she replied, “Because I knew being a 911 operator would hurt you.” She was right. I am a highly sensitive person or HSP as Elaine Aron’s book states. Imagine. The years spent wondering why I didn’t make the cut wound up being a gift to me. A gift I would not have been given had I just stayed home.
  5. Gift yourself. This is an open season deal where you decide what you would most like to get and give that to yourself. The year after my mother died was tough. A lot of “firsts” without her, first Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day and so on. Near Christmas I was browsing in a shoe store and found a pair of all leather knee high boots by a very high end company. I never had a pair of knee high boots since I was 11 years old in Ontario winters and thought what the hey, I’ll try them on. They fit perfectly and looked great but I could not bring myself to buy them even though they were, I learned, last year’s stock on clearance for less than 1/4 of the original price. I phoned a sister and told her about them. She said, “Go back and get them, those are YOUR boots.” I decided these boots were a gift from my mother and would take me places I could never dream of going. On the walk home with boots in hand, I glanced down at my parcel to find the name/model of the boot on the box. It was “Hope.” My mother was giving me hope from the heavens is how I saw it and still love my boots which will likely outlast me. It doesn’t have to be expensive as long as your gift is something you love, a book, a sale cologne, a thrift store treasure or a promise to shop the boxing day clearances for a sweater you can’t afford right now. It’s your gift to make yours in whatever way feels best for you.
  6. Honor loved ones. You can do this by hand making and sending a card for those you cannot be with this year or setting up a time for a “visit” phone call where you catch up, hear familiar voices. Again, the ways to do this are endless and it can even be loved ones who passed before us. When I was single and very, very broke, I took my last twenty dollars and decided that Christmas to stop avoiding the hospice tree in the local mall in the usual wide arc I made around it after my mother died. That year I went and put the names of my mother and mum-in-law on the Christmas tree and received a handmade bird (every donation receives a gift back). I thought I would cry. I didn’t. Instead I felt a sense of peace and calm that lasted a very long time.
  7. Phone a friend. Nothing can cheer us faster than hearing the voice of a friend who loves us unconditionally and gives us a safe place to just be ourselves. It’s like plugging in a lamp that has a new bulb. Everything “shines” brighter under the light of love and having a good friend or two is among these gifts. If you can get together, great, but if you are geographically or holiday commitment distanced, the phone is a wonderful tool to employ for a little holiday warmth.
  8. Volunteer. Not everyone has the energy or desire to do this and that’s okay. We can’t all be good at doing things all the time. But there are many organizations, especially during the holidays, that require a helping hand. Maybe you could help unload and organize the donations for a local thrift store. Or maybe you could deliver meals to those shut in alone over the holidays. Perhaps the local animal shelter could use an extra “walker” this year. Again, the possibilities are endless and most of your local newspapers or community pages will list organizations you might like to volunteer for. As a former volunteer manager for the city I reside in, I can tell you this: Volunteers do what they want to do and finding something you want to do that benefits others as well as yourself is a double gift.
  9. Start early. This does not mean start shopping early. This means starting early to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for being alone or even possibly being alone over the holidays. One of the things I did was to sit and contemplate all who were working right through the holidays. From nurses to paramedics, from doctors to doggy sitters, from police to prison guards and all in between. My heart filled with gratitude that someone would be there if I needed to call 911 which I did not but it felt good to know I could, thanks to some dedicated professionals who work complaint free right through the holidays.
  10. Appreciate what you do have however humble. Most of us have had parents who, in an effort to get us to eat food we don’t really like, tell us there are starving children on the other side of the world who would be glad to eat what’s on your plate. The thing the parents don’t grasp is that means nothing to us because we can’t see those children, they are not in our daily radar especially as children ourselves. Yet, as an adult, I will use this to remind myself that whatever is on my plate at the moment, there are many elsewhere who would be glad for what my “life plate” holds today.

These are some of the things I did when single and longing to make the holidays more meaningful. Some of my best holiday memories are from those times when I stood listening to a local children’s choir or knew that some teen-aged girls would get a little something for Christmas. Believe me when I say I indulged myself in a few tears, too, they just couldn’t be stopped. But even that was bittersweet and not entirely awful. There are many ways to make the holidays “yours,” just start thinking of what pleases your soul and go from there. And if you have any ideas you would like to share, please do, as always I welcome your thoughts and comments here. Wishing you every good thing, good health, good home and good memory making even if only for yourself.

"What fills the heart becomes us." ~ Janni Styles