Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Burlap and Pinecone Christmas (A Personal Essay)

Sharing a little something different today. I don't typically write things like this to share, but this has been on my mind for a couple weeks now. My little brother left us last year during the Christmas season and it's totally altered my perspective on life. Christmas especially has brought that perspective into focus. So I wrote this essay to get these thoughts off my chest and in honor of my little brother who I love dearly.

Christmas will never be the same. My previous Christmases have been filled with fanfare and glitter and flashing lights and all the merriment you could ever want. And that’s okay, but Christmas will never be the same.  Last Christmas I nursed a broken heart. Not one broken from a breakup or a lost opportunity. One broken from the loss of something so much greater, my little brother.  11 days before Christmas my brother took his life.  The awful day that I got the news I looked at the Christmas tree: gaudy, sparkling, and vile. I couldn’t stand it. I ripped the cord out of the wall and turned off the Christmas music.  How dare it stand there like a thing of wonder in light of what the world had lost. My brother was more sparkly and vibrant than that tree could ever be and now he was gone. How dare it compare itself.

With time the sharp devastation has been replaced with a numb pain eased by the memories of what a light my brother was in this dark world. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would feel when this Christmas came around. Would I find it just as vile? Would I slip right back into the full-fledged Christmas looney I had been?  Now that the time has come around I find it’s neither.  I still love Christmas but in a different way than I used to.
I used to be one of those crazy Christmas fanatics. I’d listen to obnoxious Christmas music from November 1st  right through Christmas. Nonstop. No other music allowed.  This year I find it those same 12 songs, same 12 versions they play on the radio every year disgusting. I hate them. I find them fake and deeply offensive to what I believe is the true beauty of Christmas. But play me “I heard the bells on Christmas day”, play me a heartfelt Christmas song and I melt. I love hearing the genuine joy people feel at Christmas time come out in song. Genuine being the key word. There are so many distractions at Christmas that it can be hard to sort the real from the fake. Maybe that’s why I limit my Christmas carol intake. Maybe that’s why Kpop has remained a healthy staple of my auditory input this year. Or maybe it’s just because I love it. Why take away one joy to attempt to concoct another?

I used to run around ensuring I spent as much money as I could afford making sure I got my family members the best gifts possible to make sure they knew how much I loved them.  It’s funny. When I look back on my memories of Christmas, I barely remember the gifts that I’ve received.  What I remember is the time that I spent with my family. I remember the year that my entire family: grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all rented a cabin at the camp that we’d go to every summer. It was a winter wonderland in the middle of the woods and we were the only ones there.  We spent the weekend in the same house: making snowmen, going sledding, drinking cocoa, and playing games.  I remember that my brothers didn’t even finish opening their presents because they were so excited to play with the toys that they had already opened.  They had the right idea. Christmas isn’t about how many gifts you have; it’s about enjoying what you do have. This year, when I’m buying my family gifts, I don’t give in to the mad rush to get everything perfect. I only think of the gifts as a token to say: “Hey, I’m thinking about you. I love you.” It doesn’t really matter what the gift is. It really doesn’t.

I used to start my Christmas fanfare in November, trying to greedily grab up every ounce of Christmas cheer that I could find. It was exhausting. What was the point?  It took more out of me than it gave.  This year I’ve taken a slow stroll through the Christmas season. Sure, I might miss some of the exciting events and shows if I don’t cram as much into every weekend as I can. But you know what I’m not missing? The simple beauty of the season. The way that people’s pocketbooks open up for people in need during the holidays. I love watching it. This morning while I was at stoplight in the city, there was a man with a cardboard sign at the intersection. I watched as he walked to the car next and the lady driving handed him some money. As he walked away, the driver was beaming.  It didn’t matter what the man was going to do with the money to her. She gave from her heart and it brought her joy. Christmas may be gaudy and obnoxious sometimes, but it’s moments like that where you see the beauty that Christmas creates. 

Last year, after my brother died, we got robbed the day after we returned home. Three days before Christmas. They took the TV, a phone, a laptop, and literally all the presents from under the tree. To make it even more disgusting they unwrapped the presents in our backyard and left them scattered in the woods behind the house because they didn’t find anything they liked.  They neighborhood kids were upset by this.  “I wish you had kids my age so they could have some of my presents” said one, others helped rewrap the gifts and put them under the tree, and one little girl brought over all the money in her piggy bank to help buy new gifts. I could have cried. Oh, who am I kidding? I did cry. Lots. The heart of those kids who were willing to give up their own things to make sure someone else could have a merry Christmas, wow. I thought I had every reason to hate Christmas after what I had experienced in that worst week of my life. But how could I?  I had seen firsthand the very best that Christmas had to offer.

Christmas will never be the same. And that’s okay. Because now I have a new take on Christmas. I tell people I want a burlap and pinecone Christmas. What does that mean? Simple. I want a simple Christmas. I don’t want my vision so clouded with glitter so that I can’t see that the true magic of this holiday is how it changes people’s hearts.  If only for a month, if only for a day, if only for a moment, it changes them. A burlap and pinecone Christmas to me means relishing those moments I get to see someone’s heart, actually enjoying the time I have to spend with my family, and watching the magical quiet snowfall on a dark winter night.  I want a burlap and pinecone Christmas and I wish you and yours a burlap and pinecone Christmas too.

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