Traditions never seem more important than during a holiday season. There are symbols to embrace, special foods and rituals for all faiths. Woven into those, are our personal family traditions. After divorce, those usually change. Sometimes, drastically.
I’m thinking about the first Christmas after I left the violence. It fell on my family of origin’s “off” year, the one when siblings were committed to go to their in-laws and my parents, snowbirds, to the warmth of the southern states. Trying to ease my guilt over leaving my ex, (why we feel guilty when we are trying to stop the cycle of abuse is beyond me) I allowed my children to go with him that first Christmas. Meaning, on a family oriented holiday, I would be - alone.
I knew I’d feel relief that I didn’t have to spend the time in anguish, waiting for the big blowup that would decimate the night. The midnight service at my new church was a given, a personal tradition. But there were many hours to fill before the service started. How would I like to spend that time? That was a difficult question since I hadn’t acknowledged my own likes and dislikes in many years. I needed some new Christmas Eve traditions.
After my children left with their father, I set about creating my evening, starting with a trip to the grocery store for a steak to broil and potato to bake. Christmas music on the radio accompanied me as I prepared a delicious meal that I ate at a lovely place setting with my best china and crystal. As I sipped a glass of wine and enjoyed my dinner, I felt at peace. Gratefulness filled me and I began thanking God for guiding me and being with me through all the pain and struggle. My kids and I were living without a lot, but you can’t put a dollar amount on how it feels to come home to a safe place where you can be who you are, say how you feel and know you are loved and cherished.
After dinner, I watched my favorite Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey learns the truth that every life matters. As someone who’d been repeatedly told she was worthless, this movie touched me deeply.
That week we received 36 inches of snow. “The most we’ve seen in years,” the forecasters said. But it was beautiful. White and blue diamonds glistened in the moonlight. My breath crystalized in air so cold it stung my nostrils as I trotted out to my very frosty car and started her up.
I love Christmas Eve late-night services, church filled with music, poinsettias and candles. The story of hope and promise unfolded and I was awed once again. As I tipped my candle to accept the flame from my neighbor, I remembered my favorite Christmas image. My children at 4 and 6 years old, each clutching a candle. So proud to be allowed to hold one. Their faces bathed in the soft light as we lifted glowing candles against the darkness and sang Silent Night. The memory filled me with joy.
When the service ended, church members called Merry Christmas to each other as we drifted into the cold, star-covered morning. I drove home still wrapped snugly in the warmth of Christmas carols and the promise of hope for the future.
That Christmas Eve was a blessing and remains a fond memory.