There is one Christmas gift that stands out to me more than any of the others I received as a child. It was a beautiful German wedding doll. I remember so clearly looking through the Sears Christmas catalogue and circling that doll with a red marker. Soon after, there was a rectangular shaped Christmas box wrapped under the tree.Through the next few weeks, I would look at the box, trying to decide if it was the right shape and size for my doll. I would hold it in my arms like a baby anticipating what might be inside.
Christmas Eve came, and as was our tradition, we went to the Christmas Eve service and opened presents afterwards. My anticipation had grown and grown over the weeks. For some reason, I felt so much joy when I opened that gift and saw that it was the little doll. It is my most vivid Christmas memory.
Expectation is one of the things that makes Christmas so special. Christmas is not some measly holiday like the fourth of July where you a buy a bunch of sparklers the day before. You take weeks to plan the menu, buy the presents, sing the Christmas carols, put the tree up. You can understand why children get excited. There is an expectation of something magical happening at the end of these weeks. Their wrapped presents bring even more expectation. There are gifts that are right under their noses, but they don’t know what they are. They have to wait in order to find out.
My desire for family, for children, can be seen in that little wedding doll, with her sweet little velvet dress and crowned veil. There has been a present, my most treasured present, under the Christmas tree for a very long time. A present called family.
The expectation over this present grew and grew, especially in my 20s. But somewhere, after many years, the expectation hit a crescendo and I all but stopped hoping. That present could be empty for all I knew. That present could have the little wedding doll in it, but she might be a disappointment. Or maybe she would bring me great joy. I didn’t know, because all of these years, I was never allowed to open that present.
For some reason, thinking about that doll struck something very deep on me on Christmas this year. I cried when I held my friend’s little boy for a little bit during the Chriistmas Eve service, when he put his little head in the crevice of my neck, in that exact spot where you feel so in love with the child in your arms that your heart is about to explode.
I cried when I drove past my dad’s old house, past the lake where he used to take us iceskating, past the forest where he used to take me to cut down Christmas trees. He died only six weeks ago, and it wass so strange and heartbreaking for me to realize that he really is gone.
I cried when I took a walk through the beautiful snow covered streets of Evergreen where I grew up, missing the puppet shows with my nephews and niece that I used to have who have since moved to North Carolina. Missing the years that I spent with ex-boyfriends with big family gatherings and games and laughter. Missing the husband and children that have not yet been, that may never be. Longing for that like a little girl waking up Christmas morning and seeing that the little rectangular box is gone for some reason that she doesn’t understand.
I couldn’t cry in the house, because my sweet mother sacrificed a lot in this hard financial season to make me and my little brother a wonderful gluten and sugar free Christmas dinner. She tried so hard to make it special for us, and I didn’t want her to have any idea that I was sad. At least I had her to hold on to. Many people don’t even have one person to try to bring joy to their loved ones like the points of hope that look like Christmas lights speckled across the night sky. At least I had that.
I walked back to my house, wiped the tears from my eyes, went upstairs to the very place that I opened that little doll all those Christmases ago, and pulled out my journal. I did what I do every year; made a list of all the gifts that God had given me that year.
There were so many. New friends that had brought me so much joy. Being able to be with family when my father died. Celebrating the life of a dear friend who nearly died but was miraculously spared. This blog, my book, and all the people who have sacrificed to make my dreams happen. Many many gifts. I tried to remember all the gifts that I have been able to open this year, and stop focusing on the one that has been sitting there for so long, the one that I still haven’t been able to open.
Christmas is difficult because it is such a mirror. A mirror of your family, of your life, of all the wishes that you have that are not fulfilled.
All I can say when I write about a Christmas this difficult is that it helped me a lot to be grateful for the gifts in front of me.There will be more Christmases with more gifts to open, and we will all anticipate that coming. There is no anticipation if there is no waiting. There is no fulfillment of joy if there is no waiting. The waiting, the anticipation, is what brings the fulfillment of hope. In the meantime, all we can do is be grateful for the gifts that are in front of us now.
Anyone else have a hard Christmas? It’s okay. Tell us about it. We all need a little family this time of year.