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Experiencing Christmas Joy for the First Time

I am not a big Christmas person. Honestly, I feel like I am the Scrooge out of everyone I know. Growing up as a child of broken — then blended — families, this time of year has always been a big source of stress and anxiety for me. I know I must have felt the “Christmas spirit” at some point in my life, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember when that was. I’ve formed this bad habit of associating anything Christmas with feelings of shame or sadness over my dysfunctional family dynamics. Between my parents’ divorce ending on very bad terms and their families hating each other, and then the incoming stepsiblings having very toxic attitudes towards our new blended family… well, you can imagine how “fun” get togethers were.

If you grew up in divorced and/or blended family – or a family where no one gets along — you get what I’m throwing down. Do you ever just sit and wonder about what it must be like for the “normal families” this time of year?

I wonder, “How do ‘normal’ families experience Christmas?”

I bet when people from “normal” families think of Christmas, they get all nostalgic about spending time with family, while for me it brings up unresolved anger and sadness. When other people see ornaments and string lights, they probably think back on fun memories of decorating the tree with loved ones… while for me it brings up memories of family members disagreeing on the best way to string the lights, and then them ultimately having a HUGE fight about it (when they are almost ALWAYS letting out pent-up anger from entirely different issues other than the tree).

For as long as I can remember, even the sound of Christmas music over the intercom at Walmart would make me break out in a nervous sweat, or even give me a panic attack if I was already feeling over the edge. I hear that music and I am a preteen again, watching the half-decorated living room delve into chaos as the Christmas tree argument has escalated to a shouting match.

Despite the anxiety each year, I do miss my family…

My husband and I moved to Utah for his job three years ago and both of our families live back in Arkansas. We have only been able to see them once a year during the holiday season. But this year my hubby and I have made the decision to stay home because of COVID-19. Christmas is the #1 holiday for Chase and his family, so knowing this I feel disappointed for them (even if I don’t quite feel the same way about Christmas as they do). And since becoming a part of his family, I have come to know and love them like my own and I am bummed to not get to spend time with them this year.

There is something good coming out of not going home this year…

Our cat Cali watching us decorate the tree.

This will be the first Christmas with just me, my husband, and our two cats… and it feels a lot like a new chance to make the holiday our own. Before, we would come home and go straight to our week-long ritual of going back and forth between his parent’s home and my mom’s home. Then out of obligation, we would drive an hour away to my maternal grandparents’ house. Then my dad’s house. And then try to go see my brother and his wife’s family (who also live away from home and are shuffling back-and-forth to different houses). Then comes the overwhelming guilt for not making it to my paternal grandparents’ house, as well as my step-grandparents’ house, or to see my friends from high school. And on and on and on… You get the idea.

By the end of the week, we are absolutely exhausted from trying to please everyone. As disappointed as I am to not see our loved ones, I am VERY excited to see what this time of year is like without the shuffling back-and-forth and feelings of guilt.

What is this new feeling?

I can’t remember the last time I actually felt excited to decorate the tree, or a time where hearing “Silver Bells” didn’t make my heart rate skyrocket. On the last day of November, Chase and I went to buy our very first Christmas tree for our own home and I felt like such a little kid picking out the ornaments, stockings, and fun sparkly things! I got to enjoy decorating our apartment without the evening ending in tears and hurt feelings! Experiencing a no-drama Christmas for the first time is like getting a fresh start. Waiting for as long as I have to experience this feeling is absolutely worth it because it makes it all the more special. And after how 2020 has gone, having this new feeling is a really nice change of pace from the never-ending sense of doom most of us have carried this year.

A small break in the storm…

It’s undeniable that COVID-19 has made 2020 an absolutely AWFUL year, and the loss we are all feeling is overwhelming. All of us are looking for the smallest rays of sunshine in this awful storm that is 2020… and for me, that small ray of sunshine is me experiencing Christmas joy for the first time. While the stress of 2020 is not over yet — and neither is the past pain I’ve carried all these years – for the first time ever I can sit and enjoy humming along to the Christmas music playing on the radio for a little while.