It was December 25, 1963; the weirdest, most disturbing Christmas day ever. Rather than jolly St. Nick coming down the chimney, the Grinch came down instead. There were no stockings for him to steal or presents or even a tree. Yet, he stole something from me that Christmas morning. He stole the magic, the awe, and wonder, the anticipation of a rosy-cheeked, wide-eyed child that couldn’t wait for Christmas to get here. He even turned the weather upside down raising the temperature from below freezing to seventy degrees . . . very strange weather for Delaware in December.
Mom went on strike that year. She stopped doing all the mom things like cooking and cleaning and laundry. She crawled into a make-shift bedroom in the attic and lived there for weeks, only coming down to empty the slop jar and re-stock her food and water supply.
I was seventeen, old enough to fend for myself. But, like the rest of the family, I depended on mom to always be there. To always cook our favorite meals. To always keep us in line. To always be a mom.
It wasn’t the first time the Grinch snuck into our house and stole from the family. He never seemed to get his fill of tormenting us with mom’s mental illness. Her brokenness. Her inability to handle the stress of my dad’s lack of communication, and getting a real job, and bill collectors pounding on the door, and my youngest brother constantly getting into trouble.
She tried to be strong in spite of her illness. But, she was just a mere child herself when her mother placed her in an orphanage and eventually ended up in an abusive foster home. All she ever wanted was a real family to love and accept her. By the time she finally got that family, her heart was too scarred and fearful to trust and believe that anyone could ever love her. Sadly for all of us, she lived and died a victim of the dire circumstances of her abusive past.
Many Christmas’s have come and gone since that warm, Christmas day when my mother callously shoved a cardboard box in my hands and said, “Here. I got you a pair of ice skates. That’s it.”
Christmas is like snowflakes; there are no two alike. But, somewhere along the way, we get the notion that every Christmas should be merry and bright and that all our expectations be fulfilled. Instead of feeling peace and joy, we feel guilt and shame for spending too much money or not enough, or that we let people down because we can’t meet their expectations, or that Christmas is completely ruined if families can’t all get together on Christmas day. And worst of all, we get so wrapped up in everything we think Christmas should be that we forget the reason we even celebrate.
Every year I have to remind myself that Christmas isn’t about me and my flimsy efforts to make it perfect for everyone. It’s not about presents under the tree and stockings hung by the chimney with care. It’s not about Santa Baby coming down the chimney with a bag full of trinkets. It’s about celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, God’s only Son who came down from Heaven to save the world from sin. It’s about His peace for the anxious, His hope for the hopeless; His healing for the wounded. It’s about love in a world filled with hate. It’s about comfort when our hearts are broken. It’s about spending eternity in Heaven where God Himself will wipe away all our tears.
So, here it is, another Christmas morning. No Christmas tree, no presents, no stockings hanging from the mantle. Just the sound of my heart beating with joy and thanksgiving for the loving family I have through my husband and my son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren and grand-children-in-laws and great-grandchildren. Nothing in this world is more precious to me than the love of my family. And the older I get the more I realize that’s all I ever wanted.