Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

. . . and every day. When you have a seriously elfed up year, that’s pretty much how you roll.

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There’s no way to candy cane sugarcoat this. If you were hoping for a ‘ho ho ho’ holiday, you’ll have to wait a year. Though hopefully we each found our share of happy moments, the year itself was an epic suck. Of course, we’ve all had a few-less than merry Christmases. In fact, many have seen some pretty tough entire years. But this one was definitely uncharted territory full of mask mandates, scary death tolls and toilet paper wars. One thing is sure, the year was certainly one for the books — and the holidays are its last chapter.

Will this be the year that creepily cheerful Elf-on-the-Shelf goes on strike? Who could blame him if he did? No matter how the halls are decked with sanitizer, the double-jointed imp might take a pass, leaving tired parents to explain why the obsequious little tattletale never showed. Then again, they might be a tad relieved that the little sucker decided to snooze the season out. Traditions die hard but, but given the year, if a sprite does show, I suspect it will be Chuckie.

No one ever promised a holly, jolly sugarplum world. Even the most glittering of holiday trees hide their share of crawly things among the branches — just to keep you on your toes. Somewhere, along life’s highway, Christmas carols hit a sour note, and our innocent beliefs in magical reindeers and sleighs go the way of childhood. This year, though, you have a hall pass from DIY’ing the perfect holiday. It’s just not that kind of year.

“There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain and I’ll be happy Christmas once again” The Eagles

I have a pretty good idea about holidays that somehow aren’t all that. When my husband died a few years ago, two months before Christmas, it topped my list of terrible, no good, very bad times. This year, thanks to COVID-19, many will suffer their own heartbreaking holiday. To those who lost loved ones, every year thereafter will be Christmas 2.0. There’s no way to sidestep life-changing grief; no magic wand to erase a pandemic. But, I suspect those grieving loss this year from that pandemic would be the first to say, give every precaution your best shot. Giving up a holiday group hug for one year, skipping the major feast and trading in mistletoe for a mask, don’t seem like the biggest ask. Compared with a deadly viral alternative, missing one Norman Rockwell holiday seems like a piece of cake. Okay, maybe not fruitcake because that’s too easy, but you get the message.

Continue reading “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
Holiday Madness

Oh, QUARANtree, Oh, QUARANtree . . .

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“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” Charlie Brown Christmas

I had some badass Christmas trees. In fact, one year my husband and I somehow dragged home a colossal 9 1/2 foot Frasier Fir, which was definitely a back-breaker but the best tree ever. The next year everything changed. When my guy died a few months before Christmas, it was hard to find merry anywhere. So I did the only thing I could do – I adapted. I made things manageable. I kept the most priceless traditions, launched some new and pitched the rest. First up – downsize all my supersize expectations – including the tree. A few things, however, were non-negotiable, and none more important than my eclectic collection of well-loved ornaments.

“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room.” Nora Roberts

Seriously, how could I part with Pinocchio from my Florence honeymoon, or the sequined, glitzy chatzkas lovingly made by my once grade school nuggets? And that lumpy stuffed star made in the blizzardy winter my BFF and I were heavily pregnant? Mended often, it still has a place near the shabby toy soldier from my childhood tree. Pictures of every kid and grand are absolute musts. That San Francisco trolley from the first travel review work trip I took solo after my husband left the building? Yes and yes. After all, trees may be small or artificial; emotions not so much.

This year, the Christmas tree is a wee bit more Charlie Brown. It happens. But, as life-changing events go, it doesn’t make the cut. In a crazy year like 2020, Christmas tree size is the least of your problems. COVID-19 is centerpiece of everything we do and think. Washing hands, staying socially distant and wearing a mask is the only way we can unwrap a healthier new year.

“Christmas is a box of tree ornaments that have become part of the family.” Charles Schultz

Continue reading “Oh, QUARANtree, Oh, QUARANtree . . .”
Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Turkey Day

. . . or not. The thankfulness menu is up to you.

Image by iStock

COVID is taking a big bite out of Thanksgiving this year. With cases surging across the country, even the turkeys are rethinking where to go. Trying to adhere to medical experts about how to handle Thanksgiving may not be easy but then, what is? Deciding to ditch a family holiday isn’t the most appetizing but it’s the most practical and loving in a time of pandemic. With facts spread on the table,  my family peeps decided to celebrate within our own nest of people, those we live with all year long. Good plan. Of course, for me, and others widowed or single, a family bubble is a pod of one. I’m not saying suddenly-solo life is desperately lonely or stark, at least when you become used to it – or resigned, as the case may be. But, at times like these, when ‘who you co-habit with’ dictates your holiday place settings, it’s definitely a lot less inviting. (On the bright side,  there are a lot less dishes to wash.)

Having become a sudden widow 5 years ago, I’m not a stranger to ‘home alone’. It was a gradual trip from shock and sadness to the ‘it is what it is’ mode today. Reluctantly, I became nearly comfortable in my very altered nest. Then the pandemic hit. Then, along with the rest of the world, everything became a giant fruit basket upset; a shitstorm of confusing resets and restarts. For those who felt the crushing loss of loved ones from COVID this year, it was a one-two punch. Alloted no traditional grieving time to adapt or adjust to a world beset by death and fear, those left behind sit where thanks and hope are hard to find.

Time, however, if not a healer, does allow us to adapt. It paves the twisted walk through the most traumatic of life experiences. But it offers no instruction book on how to battle an invisible, voracious predator. We bumbled through rules and remedies, written, rescinded and re-written every day. We saw medicine and politics clash in spectacularly wanting ways. People became deathly sick and many, many families saw loved ones leave, who never came back. With more than a quarter million people dead from this epidemic, families will have a glaringly empty holiday chair that we, who’ve lost our own loved ones, know too well.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” Mary Oliver

2020 was a wildfire (yep, we had them, too) and holidays didn’t fare well at all. Easter passed us by; ditto Mother’s Day. Thanksgiving, and most likely Christmas/Hanukkah, will join the year’s hit parade of ‘things that didn’t go as planned’ – or at all. The famous Norman Rockwell painting of family gathered around the big roasted bird isn’t on the menu this year. For most, this is a one-off holiday. Some feel secure that holidays will soon be returned intact, as normal as the proverbial apple pie. To others, those whose lives have been eternally altered, this year begins one of endless ‘new normals’ where things may never look the same.

The deadly losses this year makes ol’ Turkey Day seem like a nothing burger. Those desperately missing their ‘person’ wouldn’t question or argue what guidelines they need to obey to keep their loved one alive and safe. Remembering not being able to see or say goodbye to someone who might have been their world, would give world to save them. So here’s a thought: stuff the self-pity and pass the gratitude. If your family bubble comprises 2, 4 or 7, be thankful even with a nixed holiday invite list, you still have someone to talk to, laugh with and share the damn pumpkin pie, every day. This Turkey Day an anomaly but if we continue to test the limits, it maybe become the norm. Our choices matter.

Continue reading “The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Turkey Day”
Copy that., Holiday Madness

Grinch in Movie Wonderland

By the time the clock strikes Christmas Eve, most of us have watched more than our fair share of holiday movies. Thanksgiving weekend alone, the annual kickoff for all things merry, aired enough saccharine Christmas movies to replace the pecan pie. The year I binge-watched Hallmark Countdown to Christmas, I vowed to set limits on the sugary sweet flicks that populate the season like chocolate sprinkles on a sundae. There’s just so much of that stuff you can inhale before your sugar high propels you to la-la-land.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”  A Christmas Carol

When my kids were small, we nailed all the prerequisite family holiday movies from  Frosty the Snowman to A Charlie Brown Christmas, colorful animation to traditional Yuletide schmaltz. We cheered the Grinch’s change of heart and Rudolph’s blinking red badge of individuality. But, like anything else, an overdose of sugar can put your teeth on edge. Maybe Christmas movies come only once a year so you have time to regroup before getting your next fix of contrived holiday cheer.

But that’s just me.

When the kids flew the coop, movies like Santa is Coming to Town went with them. Grown-up shows rang in the season but didn’t always ring my bells. My house didn’t quite measure up to the mind-numbing holiday décor that draped over every Hallmark movie set. (and to be honest, eeew) My Christmas lights would never compare to Clark Griswold’s and my slowly morphing monochrome color schemed house (think coastal, remember?) would disappoint any self respecting North Pole resident. Truthfully, isn’t decorating perfection exhausting?

In my very empty nest, I let my not-so-inner graphic designer out, choosing ‘white space’ and a Pantone color palette to Santa’s workshop. Still, I’d watch those Hallmark movies with a certain amount of guilt — and curiosity. How DID that snow, that fell artfully on coats and hats, never melt? If MY hair was pelted with the white stuff while I was gleefully building a flawless snowman, I guarantee it would have that wilted, wet dog look not one ‘fresh from the salon’. And those dollhouse movie towns, bedecked in snow globe perfection? Has anyone ever seen one? They are all a little too blindingly bright, a little too magical for my taste. Any resemblance to the world I live in is purely coincidental.

“Welcome, Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.” How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Living in a less than picture perfect world is not a bad thing; it’s a real thing. Unlike a Hallmark holiday-wrapped movie, life isn’t perfect but it’s mostly good, even blessed at tomes. It’s not covered in fairy dust but cookie crumbs, crayon marks, dog hairs and milk (or wine) spills. People don’t always end up happily ever after but lose one another through misunderstandings, hurt and yes, death. Unlike the wistful happy endings in celluloid, they are often just the stuff of dreams.

Still, those Christmas movies, heartfelt or cheesy, come with something for everyone, including a good shot of holiday spirit. Forget the recycled plots and inexorably happy endings we know are the stuff of screenplays. It’s the life lessons, the timeless moral fables that sucker us back in each Christmas season.

If I have to pick a few favorites, one has to be the offbeat (more than a little) Christmas Carol remake, where Bill Murray plays the snarky, jaded Frank Cross. As unhappy and ruthless as his fabled predecessor, Scrooge, Frank Frank learns to “Keep Christmas in my heart” by living in the past, present AND future. He’s transformed into someone whose heart opens to suffering, and struggle. I can’t help but think this tale is even more timely, given these fraught last few years when we, like Frank, are all called to be aware and awake to the injustice and need around us. And, bonus, this Christmas Carol is also as hilarious as heck, populated by characters like a passive aggressive sugarplum fairy who smacks Frank in the head with a toaster. Ah, ya gotta like a woman with spunk!

“Seeing is believing but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”. The Polar Express

Who doesn’t love ELF? With all the reasons to be cynical, depressed about the state of the world and politics (don’t get me started), there are a lot of reasons it might be harder to jingle your bells this year. If you’ve lost someone, it’s even more difficult to experience the season of light without variations of darkness, too.  Buddy the Elf, takes us out of ourselves as he makes the best of every situation. Despite his challenges, he’s determined to spread cheer and positivity everywhere. When he says ‘Smiling is my favorite’, he invites us to do the same. And it’s good to remember that even just a smile can be a light in someone’s darkness.

Continue reading “Grinch in Movie Wonderland”

Chick stuff, Holiday Madness

Flower Grinch

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I may have come from the land of misfit toys but, full disclosure, I’m not the biggest fan girl of flowers. Shocker – and on Valentine’s Day, too. But, I have no intention of turning in my woman card. I’m still a warm and fuzzy Libra girl who just isn’t a total sucker for a floral bouquet. Working in my parents’ florist shop might have something to do with my blasé attitude toward blooms. Nothing says bursting the floral mystique more than frantic holidays of cranky last minute orders, stripping thorns and using enough floral tape to giftwrap the entire planet.

Admittedly, flowers are pretty, gorgeous even, but well, they die. Ooops. Shakespeare once asked “Is it better to love and lose than never love at all?” Despite that great advice, the concept of ‘perishable’ never held a lot of appeal – especially in these last 3 years. Still flowers can make your day and have made many of mine, but for reasons other than their horticultural wonder.

“At my age, flowers scare me.” George Burns

The mushy artist in me has been super appreciative of flowers that came to my door looking utterly gorgeous, especially the exotic, wildly lush ones. Some have been flashy, in eye-popping colors and some sailed in, softly hued and gentle as fairy dreams. Humans are wired to love flowers simply because they are beautiful. In fact, when we think of the word beautiful, one of the first things that comes to mind IS a flower. Continue reading “Flower Grinch”

Holiday Madness

Merry . . . Everything

I really like Christmas. Who doesn’t? I’m just so relieved the war on this holiday is over! Whew. I’ve been saying “Merry Christmas” with abandon all these years, never realizing that there was a sinister, pervasive movement afoot. I sent out Christmas cards, put up my creche and topped my ‘baby Jesus birthday cake” with a candle angel. All that time, as I blithely went “over the river and through the woods”, I never realized there was a lurking, sinister plot to steal Christmas. Okay, even in the best of times, I never saw a partridge in a pear tree, but still, who would steal CHRISTMAS?

(caution: Holiday rant ahead)

If miles and miles of crazy, blinking house lights and stores decked with holly since the day after Halloween are any indication, secular Christmas needs no comeback or defending.  It gets bigger and more lucrative every year. But if the spiritual aspect of Christmas is in danger of disappearing, the answer won’t be found in any political mandate or decree. The spirit of Christmas springs from the soul of each person.

Or not.

I guess I thought ‘Happy Holidays’ was kind of shorthand for good wishes in the Christmas season. Or maybe, just maybe, merely a sign of respect to all; a greeting to those who are and are not Christians, purely in the spirit of the season. Aside from a constitutional separation of church and state, greeting people where they are, spiritual or not, just seems like the right thing to do.

The celebration of Christmas has changed over time but the change is more about how we ourselves have evolved than a result of any conspiracy. Back in the 17th century, the Puritans didn’t think celebrations of Christmas were at all cool or maybe they were a little too cool for their version of the bible. Isn’t it ironic that the only time Christmas was actually banned in America was by — Christians?

The French Revolutionist renamed Christmas ‘Dog Day’ and rebranded holiday goodies as liberty cakes. So much for Jolly Ol’ St. Nick. During the 30’s and 40’s, in a country across the pond, extreme political ideologies were integrated into religious celebrations. (Psst: Anti-semitism can’t co-exist with Christmas because the very person we celebrate was, duh – Jewish.) Russia’s October Revolution knocked out public religious displays so it was a total TKO for Santa. Castro banned Christmas altogether to keep people’s mind on the sugar harvest. Sweet. Traditional holiday celebrations became a bah humbug act of political dissent. If there was an authentic war on Christmas, it exists in those most afraid of the other, you know, like those unwelcome travelers 2000 years ago who spent the night in a stable. Continue reading “Merry . . . Everything”

Holiday Madness

It’s About To Get Ugly.

I won’t tell. Go ahead, drag that sequined, blinking light sweater out of hiding for its annual holiday spin. What else can make you feel so happily over-dressed for success but something so tinselly tacky?  Office party or off-center homey soiree, there’s something de rigueur about donning your gaudiest apparel for the sheer fun of it.

The ugly Christmas sweater has become a tradition and traditions like this call out everyone’s most competitive, over-the-top spirit — or temporary insanity. A graphic design unicorn, who dresses more like boring Bonwit (knock-offs) than bohemian, I can probably rock a cool sweater design, but the time required would really bug everyone I know. As most artists who take hours and weeks deciding the subtle nuances of each color, by the time I’d create a suitably crazy Christmas sweater, the holidays would be over.

Already midpoint in your own holiday timeline, I’m sure if a sweater masterpiece isn’t on your current your to-do list, that ship has sailed. You could pretend you didn’t know you had to come dressed as Santa’s workshop, but then your critique of everyone else’s attire wouldn’t hold water. Then again, when you spend so much time creating something, you’d like to at least be able to re-gift it, but there are probably few takers.

When did this Christmas craziness first begin? Most would agree that the birthplace of this offbeat tradition is the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, British Columbia in 2002. Before that, garish holiday sweaters were slightly embarrassing, but through the years, Christmas sweaters, from oddly beautiful to downright weird became trendy. Later, college students, loving the irony of their parents’ 80’s fashions, upped the satire factor with vintage wearable Christmas duds. Who knew that your maiden aunt’s itchy holiday sweater, bedazzled with twinkling trees would actually become — vogue. (If you can live with the guilt that the aunt once wore that sweater proudly without a trace of irony, then wear that glitzy fashion statement with all bodaciousness.)

Combining Halloween with Holy Jingle Bells, Christmas sweaters help us let loose in our own unique holiday style. Unfortunately, that sometimes hideously glamorous apparel has become big business, as companies across the nation get their ugly on for Christmas season dollars. Some ritzy retail holiday knits are so expensive you need a commitment to lifetime annual sweater parties to justify owning one. Mass-marketed pseudo homespun treasures echo have become a lucrative ‘thing’. There’s the vest adorned with a fuzzy, stuffed reindeer head, even an entire kitschy holiday suit (yes, they really did that). Continue reading “It’s About To Get Ugly.”

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