Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.
– Janice Maeditere
Sesame Street’s Oscar The Grouch has a song he sings in their movie “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” entitled “I Hate Christmas!” It reminds me of the people I have met over the years who dread the holiday season and strive to get away from it either physically, emotionally or both. Mabel was one of these people.
It was late in November and late in the day. Mabel walked in shivering and complaining about the cold. It was five degrees below zero and a nasty wind made it feel like twenty-five below zero.
Mabel was in her late sixties, a mother of three and grandmother of several more. Both she and her husband of forty plus years were retired and living off the legacy of their hard work and frugality. She would come in about once a month for a “chat!” I got the impression she was finally making the time to understand her life and she was determined to figure out every last bit of it.
I offered her some herbal tea and as we sat sipping it, a peppermint flavor in the air, she said,
“Ken, Christmas is coming and I hate it…why is that?”
“What does Christmas mean for you?” I asked.
“It is usually about religion, loneliness, boredom, debt, silly parties, family hassles and exhaustion.” She responded.
“Well, that is all true!” I said. “But what else is it about?” I asked her.
“It also brings back a flood of memories I’d rather forget!” She replied with a sad, distant demeanor.
“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!“
– Hamilton Wright Mabie, essayist
“Mabel, what is your saddest memory that pops up in your mind?”
“Ken, that would be the year my father, in a drunken stupor, picked up our Christmas tree, decorations and all, and threw it out the front door into the snowbank outside.”
“I must have been about eight years old…which would make my sister ten and my brother about six.” She answered staring into the middle distance between us.
“ Mabel, it has been said the human brain only remembers what it needs to grow and survive…only about fifteen percent of the information it collects. If that is so, I wonder why would you remember this event so clearly after all these years?”
“I have always thought it was to remind me not to expect a happy Christmas because…it ain’t gonna happen!” she retorted with a sarcastic, cynical tone.
“Well then, tell me how you go about celebrating Christmas today…do you have your own traditions or rituals you observe?” I asked.
“Well yes…sort of…?” Mabel said with a confused look on her face.
“My kids and grandkids usually have their Christmas in their own home, that is Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. But then in the afternoon, at least two if not all three of them show up for Christmas Dinner around 4. My daughter lives away now so they are only able to make it every second year…so they phone us instead.”
Mabel said all this with a soft, warm, contented look about her face and especially in her deep brown eyes.
“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas
if you stop opening presents and listen.” – Bobby, 7 years old
“It sounds pretty special to me…Mabel, is it for you?”
“Oh yes! It is magical!”
“I am wondering if you expected to get this kind of experience with your family for nothing…for free…without there being a cost to you?” I asked.
“I don’t know what you mean Ken?” she retorted with a look suggesting I must be demented, or at least, over medicated.
“Mabel!” I said, “Many people go around this time of year trying to have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Christmas or a Happy Holiday…only to be disappointed, despondent or depressed when they can’t achieve it…as if there is something wrong with them…or they have done something terribly wrong.”
“Wow! If that doesn’t describe me to a tea I don’t know what would!” She said.
“Did you know chasing a Merry Christmas is like chasing a rainbow…futile? I said.
“But Ken…doesn’t everyone want a Merry Christmas?” She asked.
“What I have noticed are people looking for a Christmas filled with gratitude, appreciation and inner harmony…would those words apply to you Mabel?” I asked her.
“They would indeed…I’d love that kind of Christmas!” Mabel replied.
“Well, that’s what you have been getting your entire life…I guess you haven’t noticed it before!” I said.
“How is that possible when I dread the Holidays so much Ken?”
“Mabel, gratitude, appreciation and inner harmony can only be achieved by understanding the natural law of balance which says every moment of your life must be a balance of two equal sides…pleasure and pain.”
“Are you saying the Holidays will be half pleasure and half pain…at every moment?” Mabel asked.
“Yes Mabel…that is exactly right! When I notice the pleasure of having my family around me this time of year, it is counterbalanced by the pain I feel for those who are not there…my parents, my grandparents, my eight siblings, my home town and so on. It is only when we notice what we have lost we value what we have gained…this creates our gratitude, appreciation and inner harmony!”
“If this is true Ken, what was the pleasure in my memory of my Father tossing out the Christmas tree?” She asked me with a challenging tone.
“Let’s find out shall we? As you recall this memory what did you do, as an eight year old child, when it occurred?” I asked her.
“I remember clearly…Father staggered into his bedroom and fell asleep. My Mother was so upset she sat down on a kitchen chair and cried. I was so mad I got my brother and sister and we went and hauled the tree back in the house and set it up again!” Mabel said proudly, pulling her shoulders back while projecting a determined air to her voice.
“So Mabel…what did you learn on that day which has probably impacted every day in your life since?” I asked her. She stared off out the window behind my shoulder for a few minutes and then brought her gaze back to me.
“Ken, I decided no one was ever going to spoil Christmas as long as I was around!” Mabel said emphatically.
“Mabel, has this been an important value for you ever since? Have you used it to guide you in your Christmas celebrations for your own children and your grandchildren?”
As she stared out that window again, she said, “You know…I think it has Ken!”
“So Mabel, can you now see how this ugly memory had a beautiful lining…a beautiful core which has served you very well since?” I asked.
“Yes…I can see that now!”
“And would you trade this important value to be able to erase that memory?”
“No, Ken I wouldn’t…it has been an important part of my family life and our relationships…so it really has served me well.”
The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. – Burton Hillis,
“So can you now see how you Father, in his drunken stupor, was actually helping you learn a vital lesson for your future which is still very important to you today?” I queried.
“Yes…I can see that too Ken!”
“So Mabel do you notice how that memory of that event looks and feels different now…is more neutral…is more information than emotion…is more experience than tragedy?”
“Yes…I feel different about it…it looks different…even my Father looks different…he was unemployed that year and we were having a tough time of it.”
“Mabel, let me ask you one of the toughest questions you may ever be asked…OK?”
“OK!” Mabel replied.
“With your value system today, would you give up your determination to honor Christmas your own way today, not to have had that childhood experience?” I asked her.
“Of course not!” She replied without hesitation.
“So can you see how even this experience, which you had believed was tragic, really was you opportunity to triumph in determining who you were as a person and how you would live your Christmases in your future?”
“Yes, I really see it now!”
“One last question…now that you see both sides of the experience, you also appreciate it…feel grateful for it and feel a sense of inner harmony about it as one of your memories…yes?” I asked.
“It feels totally different now…totally! Thank you Ken!” She said.
“Not me…thank your Father, your Mother, yourself and your life!” I said.
I responded smiling at her,
“Christmas nightmares help us to uncover the magic of Christmas which is the opportunity to appreciate and be grateful for every event in our life…to literally love our life and everyone involved.”
Finally I added, “Mabel, now just imagine what you can do with other memories of a similar nature and how they also have two sides and how this will impact the coming Holiday Season?”
“Christmas is to remind each one of us we are loved regardless of anything!” – King Ayles, writer
Next time we will look at the real purpose of Christmas which is more spiritual than religious and more evolutionary than commercial!
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
1. Most of us carry fantasies or nightmares about Christmas…or both!
2. Both fantasies and nightmares handicap us during the Holidays!
3. If we focus on our fantasies about the holidays we will be continually confronted with the sad parts.
4. If we focus on our nightmares about the holidays we will be constantly confronted with the good parts.
5. The appreciation, gratitude and the inner harmony you strive for during the Holiday is only achievable by noticing both the good and the bad of past Holidays which allows you to open your heart…and so uncover the real “present” of this Holiday…You!