Christmas Was Hard This Year…


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.

16 thoughts on “Christmas Was Hard This Year…

  1. Yes, a hard Christmas. I can relate to the image of the little girl waking up Christmas morning to find the box is gone for some reason she doesn’t understand, and to the woman giving up hope and starting to associate the whole issue of marriage with disappointment. And there are still the other gifts, the ones that I do open and that are wonderful. But there’s still that one unopened gift, the one I wanted most.

  2. Yes, Christmas was hard. Sad because there are only four of us – my wonderful parents and my mentally ill brother, and me. With no kids around, Christmas is sad. I am 38 and starting to fear the day when my parents are gone as they are now 68 & 69. And because I have no relationship with my brother, I don’t know who I will spend holidays with when that day comes. I ache to be married, and my brother will never marry. I am probably unlikely to have kids biologically. So much loss. At Christmas, my brother showed signs that his mental state is deteriorating further. It was just a reminder that I will someday be his caretaker, and that the estate planning my dad’s been doing, including plans for my brother’s care, is really REAL. I fear it so. He was abusive to me growing up, and there’s too much damage there for me to have a relationship with him. I have forgiven him, but for my own sanity, I cannot be close to him. The other night I had to go check on him because he hadn’t called my parents back (they were out of town, so asked me to check on him). I was terrified to check on him, so afraid he would be abusive. It turned out fine, but I hated the fact that I was so afraid (with good reason, because of his past behavior). At times I hate him so for the damage he’s wrought in our family. So I have spent much of the last few days in bed, sad, depressed, and lacking motivation to do anything. Going back to work on Jan 2 will be good… good to get back into a routine.

      • Thanks, Kate. Yes, it is hard, it just sucks. Reminds me of the post you did on how being single sucks! I do enjoy your blog…just recently found it. On the upside, my parents are being really good about trying to plan for my brother’s care, and there will be plenty of money set aside to help me do that, and I will likely engage a non-profit to be his front-line caregiver. So while I’m very grateful for that, I really fear the entire situation, mostly that I will be handling it alone. I’ve been begging God to give me a husband before my parents die. I don’t think I can go through life without one because my parents and I are so close. And I feel like I need a man to help me manage my brother — not only because men can often stand up better to men, but because a husband will be a somewhat disinterested party in the whole situation since he won’t have the history with my brother that I do. Thanks for your support.

  3. I had an interesting Christmas, perhaps equal parts hard and joyous. This is my first Christmas without my mother, many of my friends are enjoying their first Christmas with both wife AND child, and what with both my Mother and Uncle gone there was no one to supply the presents. And so it fell to me to provide the presents. An thanks to my God given job at Goodwill I was able to do just that. Perhaps the topper to the whole Christmas-time experience had to be when my Grandmother and Aunt each opened a present I had given them to remember my Mother by. Their tears of happiness where like a balm to my heart.
    This Christmas was hard. But thank God it was also a bit joyous.

  4. Kate – Thank you so much for posting this. My Christmas was so tough this year and you put words to the feelings and ‘funk’ I’ve been experiencing that I’ve been unable to really put words to. Last Christmas was the best one ever, everything I ever dreamed of – I spent it with my boyfriend at the time, and it was exactly as I always hoped it would be when God blessed with the man who is His best for me. This year, I spent it without him as we are no longer together. I shed many tears and struggled as I missed him so much. But I am so thankful for family and friends who are amazing and such a blessing and most importantly for a God who loves me no matter if I’m living ‘my dreams’ or if I’m ‘in the pit’

  5. Thanks, Kate. I wondered where you’d been. 🙂 Up ’til December 21, I was so crazed that I didn’t really read anything, I just glanced at highlights. After I slept more than a few hours, I was able to experience Christmas. Mine was not, perhaps, so hard as yours, yet there was a difference. My parents didn’t decorate and my mom didn’t bake… when I was little, my dad joyed in helping us choose the tree and my mom has always showered everyone with traditional candy. But age, life, and my rebellious siblings have brought them to a more sober frame of mind. My siblings weren’t home for Christmas, and the house was so quiet on Christmas Eve and morn. I was thankful for my parents’ friends who hosted dinner and I couldn’t help but wonder, would it be different if I had followed the “rules for the game of Life,” if I had my kids and my husband and my minivan and my own home.
    On the flip side, I have to be thankful. My beloved parents (who adore me) welcomed me with open arms and showered me with every blessing theirs to give. I have 3 living grandparents with whom I was able to share hours of time. And before Christmas I was surrounded with adoring children’s faces (in my students), with parties and music and food through church and school and friends, with all laughter and tradition via my “adopted family,” with a family Christmas a few days late where we opened lots of presents with my brother and sister-in-law and nephews and I used dominoes to build fences in the living room floor for hours. I can’t say it was a grievous Christmas. Rather, it was a Christmas of opening my eyes to all that is the best of Christmas, despite the fact that my best plans are nowhere as high as His thoughts. A Christmas of remembering that Jesus, my bridegroom, is coming again and I am waiting for… Him.

  6. Thank you for this, Kate.
    I totally get all that you have said 🙂
    My mom has been gone since I was 15 and at Christmas our family feels somewhat incomplete.
    And still waiting for the gift of a family of my own and children.
    Throught it all God is with me and faithful and present.
    There is still so much to be grateful for even if some of my heart’s desires are still found wanting.

  7. I had a hard Christmas too. This Christmas was marked by unnecessary drama between my parents, who are not happily married but live more like roommates. I was caught in the middle of their drama and felt like my heart was all beat up inside after the dust settled. I wanted to spend 2 weeks of my month off between jobs with my parents but in retrospect it was not good for my heart. Yet I have a few good quality times with each of them, and it would have been hard to have all those times if I wasn’t there that long. It was really hard to focus on Christ this year. And yet I wonder how long they will be around, and when the day will come that I am either completely by myself, or when God will give me a family of my own??

  8. Reblogged this on blessings and commented:
    I can relate to this post on so many levels and at the same time, this was the first year in a very long time where I haven’t felt as sad as I usually do. I don’t know whether God is finally answering my prayers to remove this overwhelming desire for a family or if I’m just learning to accept and be happy and content with my life the way that it is.

  9. This was a really beautiful post. I really appreciate you sharing it and I’m so sorry for your loss as well. May 2013 bring you all your hearts desires. 🙂

  10. Thanks so much for sharing. I just finished reading “The Meaning of Marriage” by Timothy Keller, and although it is so encouraging and such a good perspective of both marriage and singleness I am reminded that I need a single community more as I grow older and not less. Two of my best girlfriends recently got engaged and though I’ve had many other friends get engaged; I thought that all three of us would experience the joy of marriage at about the same time. I remind myself that I do not know God’s timing though and I trust His reasons.

    Thanks for being an encouragement.

  11. I’m sorry for your loss, Kate. Grief certainly changes Christmas, something my family has experienced all too well. I love how you counted the gifts anyway- that’s a wonderful reminder for me.

  12. A difficult Christmas here as well. My sister came home for the 1st time since last Christmas and basically did her best to make sure we wouldn’t miss her for a second. It’s difficult to have someone you love shove so much hate your way. It felt like my promise of future get togethers with our future families was just immediately ripped away. And the fact that my whole future family seems far away already? Well, let’s just say I’m still dehydrated.

  13. This Christmas will be difficult. It will be the third since my divorce, the first since my ex-husband has remarried, and the first time in over 2 years that I will spend more than a day without my son. (He’s spending 8 days with his dad and step-mom, and I am expecting to be blue). My therapist gave me some good advice about getting through the season. Embrace all the emotions, and Acknowledge all the losses. I am also trying to focus on the joy of Emmanuel, God With Us, an idea of the incarnation that has been ever-present in the music I hear and words I read this Christmas. Hope your Christmas is feeling better this year, Kate.

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