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Friday, December 9, 2016

There are angels among us

My Christmas tree decorating tradition is to select a favourite schmaltzy seasonal movie (this year it was Notting Hill), pour a glass of wine (if it’s after 5pm – a cup of hazelnut coffee if it isn’t) and unpack all my memories of holidays past. Well, the happy memories, anyway. The rest can stay packed.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have a perfect holiday with family, friends, love and light…but the truth is Christmas is just another square on the calendar. As you walk through a crowded shopping mall or sing carols in church, have a look around. Christmas isn’t bright for everyone this year.
I remember the Christmas when it became increasingly obvious that my first marriage was coming to a crashing end. That was not a good one in the memory book. Or the year I couldn’t afford to come home from Asia for the holidays. I spent that Christmas Eve alone, under a potted banana tree strung with fairy lights. I spoke to my family over a choppy Skype connection and told myself it would be different next year.
When your kids are little, Christmas is all about creating magic for them. As they grow up it can become increasingly expensive to make those dreams come true. But the holiday is truly special when your kids are old enough to ‘get’ Christmas. They no longer have an extensive, expensive wish list. They just want to get dressed up, crowd themselves into an overheated living room stuffed with family and friends, eat comfort food and open simple tokens of love and appreciation for each other. It isn’t about the presents anymore. It’s about sharing memories and laughing together. Looking back on the year that was and forward to the year that will be. I know I am blessed to be surrounded by my family at Christmas because of the years when I wasn’t. It’s truly the only gift I wish for, year after year.
When my daughters were small, my mother started buying them an angel to put on the tree each year. They have taken most of their angels with them to their own homes now, and some of the more delicate ones have broken over the years but I still have about a dozen to hang on the tree. So as I decorate, run some of my holiday memories through my head and sniffle at a sappy Christmas movie, I am surrounded by angels.
I have a crystal star in a crushed blue box that hasn’t been discarded because it bears my father’s handwriting. I miss my Dad. He would love his great-granddaughter Leti so much. When she does something that elicits applause she stops and looks at us with his expression on her face. “Oh I like the raised eyebrow,” someone noticed recently. It isn’t fair that he only lived to 66 and didn’t get to watch his grandchildren grow up and become good people. He would have laughed when I turned 40 and he would have poked at the extra roll around my waist, the bags under my eyes and the silver in my hair. Yep. I miss that too. The strange way he had of telling me he loved me.
And now begins the phase where we see Christmas through the eyes of a child again. As I decorate the tree I put the breakable ornaments up high and the ones that are meant to be handled down at granddaughter height. I fill a basket with the stuffed Christmas characters I have collected over the years: an insane-looking snowman, a sock puppet, a sad penguin, a monkey and a gingerbread man with no nose. These will sit under the tree for Leti to play with when she visits. She is one this year, so her mom and dad will be setting their own holiday customs.
This year I will be carrying on the tradition started by my mother. I will be giving Leti an angel to hang on the tree. Someday she will have dozens of them to decorate her own home with. One for every year of her life. Then she too will be surrounded by angels.

As we roll down the hill toward December 25th, remember to put the brakes on. Slow down, look around and file some of those special moments away in your memories. All the best to you and yours this Christmas. 

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