Late September to early October ushers in the holiday season in my household with the first chill of the year, changing leaves and pumpkins galore. By October of 1987 I was newly divorced and homeless with 2-year old twin daughters. While life was tough I welcomed the 1987 holiday season with excitement and joy. Little did I know this year would be my first Christmas without my mom and the last Christmas with my dad.
Not only had I lost my mom but the circumstances of the time made the loss even more unbearable. I had told her two months prior of my divorce. She was understandably upset perhaps even angry or at least that was my perception. I begged her to let us come home but she wouldn’t allow it. We argued, how could she let her daughter and granddaughters live in the horrible conditions we were in. The two weeks before her death I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me, causing me to remember and miss my home, my family. I couldn’t stand the internal pressure anymore so I arranged for a babysitter and planned to walk the mile to the closest phone the next Sunday. The day before, my “former” mother-in-law came to where I was staying and said “I’m so sorry”. She was crying and could barely get the words out. All I could think was “my ex-husband had died and I’d have to feel sorry about it”. She continued, “Your mother died…” and that’s all I remember of her words as I collapsed inside and out.
I would never hear my mom’s voice again and the last conversation we had was a horrible argument. And to add coal the fire at her funeral my aunts confronted me rather harshly for not having called her sooner. This led to 15 years of self imposed guilt and the striving to be the perfect mother with perfect holidays.
In less than two years I lost my home, my marriage, my mom, my dad, a baby and my entire way of thinking. I was an orphan. I learned to fake the Christmas spirit. I found my longings changed, now I celebrated differently, new traditions. My girls kept me going. Everything I did, every decoration I made, every sweet treat I baked were all unconsciously in memory of my mother. My home was transformed in sight, sound and scent. All decorations, serving ware, plates, cups glasses, pillow, curtains, even shower curtains were stored away and replaced with deep reds, greens and silvers, poinsettias and candy canes. Every room had a Christmas tree. I began to bake cookies, pies, brownies, sweet breads and candy.
While my heart had lost the spirit I believed that somehow, if I put myself into the season fully it would bring some part of my mom back and restore my family. I became obsessed with Christmas movies, especially Hallmark. Those wonderful stories of Christmas miracles and relationships restored. I dreamed of the father I hadn’t seen since childhood coming to my door with my brothers and sisters, a new family, restoration of a childhood loss so deep it would shape my very way of thinking, of how I perceived the world and myself.
A few years later my strained false Christmas spirit became challenged as well as my faith. I learned that Christmas, the birth of Christ, didn’t take place on December 25th, not even in December. Even more, that no one really knows the exact date. Like finding out Santa was a myth the myth of Christmas hit me hard and disillusionment set in. I felt I’d been lied to all my life.
One Last blow to my crushed Christmas spirit occurred with the death of my grandmother who passed in 1997. This is a story of loss and heartbreak I won’t get into here (see Paradise Lost). She helped raise me and I was closer to her than anyone else. That summer I sold most of my Christmas decorations. I was truly alone; she was the last of my family. All that was left was my girls. If it weren’t for my girls I would have never celebrated Christmas again. Eventually I did stop decorating after my girls moved to Florida, what was the point.
What I learned during my “Jubilee Journey” is that the spirit of Christmas isn’t about a specific day, or season, or who remains on this earth to walk with us on our journey, it’s about the love of God, giving us his son so our heavenly family can be restored, so we can be reconciled with God, and so we could walk free in Jesus. While I believed I completely lost the spirit there was something deep in my heart calling me. The years after the loss there was a Folgers coffee commercial that featured the song “I’ll be home for Christmas”. There was defiantly something in my heart; I would sob uncontrollably for I knew I would never again be home for Christmas.
Then it happened, I had my first Christmas alone. I became very angry and depressed that I wouldn’t be with my girls. There must have been something still in my heart, some bit of hope, the Christmas haunting remained. I may not have wanted a tree but I wanted my girls. I was desperate to be with them. Presents, trees and decorations didn’t matter if I didn’t have them. This was the catalyst that would lead to the “Jubilee Journey.”
Part 1 — A Haunting of Christmas past
Part 3 — Christmas Restored