For most of my life, the Christmas season has been very busy and very regimented. Our family’s Christmas schedule was as follows:
December 23: Attend my Aunt Susan’s Christmas party, which included similar menu and guest list for 40 years. Eat sausage balls.
December 24, day: If we’re industrious, a trip to the market which everyone always told me was my great grandma, Granny Etta’s regular Christmas Eve tradition. Christmas celebrations with my mom’s side of the family, started as a tradition when my Papaw worked as an air traffic controller on Christmas Day. Probably eat red velvet cake.
December 24, evening: Hop over to our friend Sue’s house for creme de menthe brownies and laughter before church.
December 24, 11pm: Christmas Eve service at church. Leave after candle-lit Silent Night in silence. Watch for reindeer on the ride home.
December 25, pre-dawn: Wake my little sister up far too early. Eat cinnamon rolls with mom & dad; open stockings. If it was an odd year (like, as opposed to an even one – they split their time between our house and our cousins’), welcome the grandparents and JoJo’s oyster stew for breakfast. Wait for the call from my cousin Ashley to ask why we were being so slow and when we’d get our butts over to my grandparents’ house.
December 25, daytime: Gather at JoJo and Bobby’s house for presents, party mix, ham, jello salad, coconut cake and custard, the occasional dance party. Return home and collapse.
I know there were adjustments to this schedule that I don’t remember. My parents tell me that when we were really little, we managed to squeeze in visits to several other houses on Christmas Day itself. There was a lot of obligation and a lot of celebration and a lot of tradition. It did not change for decades. When I became a pastor, I started missing all the stuff before Christmas Day (#pastorlife). My sister and brother-in-law started hosting Christmas at their house earlier in the month so we could all be together (#jointcustodylife). And as my grandparents aged, a lot of work went into adjusting the schedule around accessibility and their needs. Two years ago, we visited Bobby in the nursing home instead of sitting in his living room for hours waiting for him to finish opening his mountain of presents. Last year, we didn’t do much of anything (#pandemiclife).
This year, I am feeling the loss of all of that in new ways. Like, I have known for years that the intensity of that high-intensity holiday agenda was not my cup of tea. I have known for a while that things weren’t going to stay the same forever. But somehow, this year, with Bobby’s death in January of 2020 and both JoJo and Mammaw dying in 2021, and the ongoing global pandemic messing with every attempt we make to gather, it’s all hitting especially hard. I don’t like change.
Covid is also messing with my work life, causing our joint Christmas Eve service plans to be adjusted and making me anxious – again – about bringing stray infections back home. I’m sad, and anxious, and grumpy and stressed. I hate feeling like this, because I am usually an even-keeled, calm kind of person. I like being an even-keeled and calm kind of person. I detest being out of sorts, impulsive, needy and thoughtless. But right now, I am all those things. (If Enneagram jargon means anything to you, I am an Enneagram 5 who is currently existing as a nasty 7 stressball, and the experience of that wild swing is almost more upsetting than the cause.) I talked to my sister yesterday and after listening to me rant wildly for a while, she said, “Uh, maybe you need a drink. And also some herbal gummies.”
I know that this is a temporary state, that Christmas will come and go, that the intensity of Omicron Covid will wax and wane, that my wild Enneagram 7 energy will dissipate. I know that grief will reconfigure itself into something a little easier to live with, that Jesus will get born whether or not we eat sausage balls or coconut cake or sing Silent Night or take communion or not.
But my grandparents won’t ever come back to life. Christmas gatherings won’t ever be the same. I’ll never hear my Mammaw cackle with delight over some silly gift. I’ll never see JoJo’s expression of satisfaction when people open gifts she’s bought them. Bobby won’t ever ask me if I got up before breakfast again. And I hate that so much.
Just here to say that I am not well this Christmas season. I am healthy and safe and well-loved and warm and FINE. But I am not well.
And it’s okay if you are not well, either.