I suppose Christmas is a special enough occasion to warrant a rare blog entry. I don't know exactly why I'm writing, I just am.
The entire Christmas season is obviously exceptional in a number of ways. The way it tends to strike me most is how it always manages to bring about in me an inventory of my own life. I don't know that I really begin drawing judgments about where I stand until New Year's Eve is next on the agenda. But I do tend to take notes about where I am and who and what are around me as Christmas approaches. I think this is the case for a couple of simple reasons.
In my family at least, the celebration of Christmas tends to be a consistent exercise from one year to the next. The tree goes up on Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter. The shopping follows, the wrapping is next. General nostalgia and warm fuzzies follow. Real life shuts down a couple of days before the holiday begins unofficially with the arrival of friends and family, and officially (in my family) with a trip to church on Christmas Eve, whether I've been in the last year or not. Somewhere on or around Christmas Day, big meals are shared with people whom I don't see often enough and gifts are exchanged. When no huge events are taking place, football games between unlikely teams take place in unlikely locales on the nearest television screen. A minor letdown bridges the gap before the New Year's holidays. A major letdown accompanies the boxing up of Christmas and the realization that the only thing left is twelve more cold, miserable weeks before spring arrives. The order or exact locations may vary from year to year, but each Christmas is basically the same.
I have mentioned this in a different context before, but that sameness over time makes the changes our lives undergo far more obvious at this time of year. When a family member is added to the mix, it is particularly notable at Christmas. When someone is gone, their absence is certainly most strongly felt at Christmas. Be those changes a new home, a new scar, a new wife or daughter, or a new void left by a former spouse, parent, friend, or familiar landmark - the changes our lives endure become most obvious to us at the times when all else in our lives is familiar. For my family and many like mine, that time of familiarity is Christmas.
And so I have thought much over the last few weeks about those changes. I smile when I think about the positive changes, crowned obviously by the addition of my wife to my life and my family. We are also lucky enough to have a sweet dog whom we love very much, nephews who grow at an unreasonable pace, and a home which provides much more (though not enough) space than either of us has enjoyed before. I am also particularly mindful at this time of year of those things that have changed for the worse. Be it recently or long ago, the people who have left us have left a void that is most memorable right now. I always think of my maternal grandfather (Big Daddy) at this time of year, because he was a part of my first 23 Christmases. He continues to be missed.
I also tend to reflect on the fact that many of the things that have not yet changed will do so in coming years. The things that I know that are likely to change are the things that make me most emotional at this time. It is clearly a waste to allow my holiday to be darkened by things that haven't yet happened, when the nearest thing to an antidote to those changes is the simple appreciation of the present. So I don't.
But for me, it is worth a modicum of emotional cost at this time of year to consider the ways in which life has changed and will surely change. The end result is always a deep appreciation for my life and world exactly the way it is. That is something worth celebrating.