How is everyone’s headspace this holiday season? To be honest, the older I get, the more I struggle. There was something about the magic of Christmas when I was young, that seems to have dissipated into adulthood, morphing me into a curmudgeony Scrooge every time December rolls around. When I was young, it was all about us; my sister and I. My Mom did everything she could to make it special. We went to Hallmark each year and picked out our own Christmas ornaments, so that we had something to take with us when we went out into the world and started our own traditions, I imagine. I was never thinking that far ahead then, and I never asked her about it. We made gingerbread houses (the engineering was always questionable, but it was more about the process and the time spent together). We made sugar cookies with unnatural colored frosting, baklava and krumkake. We had spiced gumdrops, lemon drops, candy canes and Advent calendars filled with chocolate. There was more sugar in the house than the preceding cumulative year combined. Dad always made his homemade pumpkin pie and sipped on hot buttered rum from Thanksgiving through New Year's. Of course, being innocent to the world of alcohol, my sister and I enjoyed hot buttered tea instead.
Christmas music serenaded us each night while we gazed at our beautiful Noble Fir that we had trekked into the mountains to obtain as a family. Sometime near the beginning of December, we’d drive up into the snow, my parents with a thermos of mulled spiced wine and my sister and me with hot chocolate, and turn off onto an old forest service road that my Dad knew from his days on fire patrol. Then we’d don our snowshoes and hike into the snowy forest to find the perfect McCausland Family Christmas tree.
We’d set our tree up in the bay window, always hoping that snow would find its way into our temperate coastal climate as a backdrop, but it rarely did. Naked at first, we’d carefully unwrap each of our treasured ornaments, find them the perfect spot as we slowly dressed our new tree. Dad would unravel the Christmas lights that he had meticulously snapped back into their individual packaging the previous year, and our little 1970’s-looking orange, yellow and green stained-glass angel would find its way to the top. The smell was intoxicating, this decaying evergreen within our home. The soft lights were soothing. We’d sit on the couch each evening, cuddled together as a family when we were small, and perhaps finding a moment of reflective solitude as we got older, with a fire crackling in the fireplace, gazing at the beautiful tree as Christmas music softly playing in the background. The “Christmas in the Northwest” album reminded us that we were in a special place for the season, that our location, of which I knew no other, was “a gift that God wrapped up in green.” I never understood it for the longest time, but eventually I realized it was a reference to the surrounding native evergreens and lack of snowfall. We rotated through The Nutcracker, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jazzy Christmas, Cajun Christmas, Pop Christmas, every different rendition of the same five songs you could possibly imagine. Today I can barely stand to listen to Christmas music for more than ten minutes, but back then, even these cheesy holiday jingles were simply magic.
We’d dress up in our holiday best and travel the hour into Downtown Seattle to go to Westlake Center, a proper mall with large department stores packed with holiday cheer, all for sale. We’d purchase the octagonal boxes of Frango mint chocolates for gifts, and savor the ones we kept for ourselves. We’d take our Christmas photos with Santa at Fredrick’s & Nelson’s when we were young, and eventually, we revolted along with our cousins and opted for photos sans-Santa. Where did all of that go? Slipped away with time.
The years have hardened me. I am traveling for the holidays nearly every year. It’s tiring. Ever too much jolly and spirits (the alcoholic kind), and not enough reflectiveness. My Mom isn’t here to create the magic anymore, and I feel as though I haven't created my own traditions because I'm always on the go. I’m not surrounded by evergreens, so it seems terribly wasteful and ecologically unfriendly to import a fir tree to the islands. I drink to mask my sadness, missing those special years we had as a family. They are only a dusting of memories. I never realized how painful the holidays can be. And I wonder perhaps how painful they are for others, too. How many of us are masking our emotions? I had a picture-perfect childhood version of the holidays, and now nothing seems to compare. Family has dispersed, people have their own children and create their own traditions, while I sit in a time capsule and long for how things once were.
This year was the first year I have been in my own home in many, many years. I am an adult now, so this year, I hesitantly decided I needed to make my own traditions. We were hosting this year. We were so much looking forward to it, but circumstances changed and my husband and I found ourselves alone during the holidays. I crumbled. I felt like there was nothing holding me to any sort of celebration. No children instilling a sense of magic around, no family to decorate for. And to further enforce my hesitation, we live in a half-built house - a construction site. How do you hang tinsel from scaffold? How do you deck the halls when your halls are a mix of bare sheetrock and 2x4 framing?
But just prior to Christmas, I busied myself to create a small space void of construction material to display my modest decorations. I had no reason to pull my decorations out, but I did. I opened a dusty box labeled "Christmas" and a rush of memories of my Hallmark decorations that I picked out with my Mom and my sister came flooding back to me. My husband, a fellow Grinch, even softened and decided we could go and get a tree together. So we went to the nursery and picked out our Christmas tree, a beautiful broad-leafed native “evergreen” called Calusia, which we will plant in our yard after the holiday, ever reminding us of the first Christmas spent in our home that we work so hard to make homey. For New Year’s we plan to cuddle up with on our porch under a blanket, maybe not with a hot buttered rum, but maybe our own island version, perhaps a chilled Sky Juice dusted with nutmeg. We'll battle the chill of the winter northern wind that tingles our faces at 72 degrees, and watch the fireworks from the newly opened Baha Mar Resort that we view from our balcony. Maybe I've been living in the past for much too long. Maybe I need to close that door, and open a new one by creating new memories and new traditions in our beautiful home in The Bahamas. Even if it's just my husband and I.
I hope everyone is able to find peace, solace, and their own spirit this holiday season, no matter where your headspace is at, and no matter how close you have stayed to your traditions, or far you have ventured. And here's wishing you health, prosperity and happiness in the coming New Year. Peace and love to you all.