“I was 50 years old before I learned that ‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Miss Lillie

For the first time in my adult life, I didn’t decorate for Christmas. No tree, no lights, no wreaths or poinsettias or candles. What’s more, I didn’t wrap a single gift, a normally enjoyable task that involves a couple of hours locked in the bedroom with colorful paper and ribbons strewn everywhere.

I didn’t miss it. Not one bit.

Frankly, 2017 wore me out, physically, mentally, and emotionally. By the time December rolled around, my husband Ret and I just said, “Enough.” We’re tired. This year, we decided to sit out the annual consumer-driven spectacle that is the Christmas season and focus on each other. And with all of our grown children living far away, the whole routine felt a little empty, anyway.

Different kinds of gifts

No, we didn’t forego gift-giving altogether. But our gifting was different this year. We stayed out of the mall and instead presented our loved ones with experiences: theater and concert tickets, gift cards to favorite restaurants and a few special, handmade items. Our gift to each other was time. We spent our annual Christmas-to-New Year’s vacation napping, talking, watching movies and just catching up with each other. It was lovely. (We also cleaned out the garage and attic and brought mountains of donated items to the Humane Society for their thrift store, but that’s another story entirely.)

At first we felt a little weird, defying traditional expectations. Then we realized the most astonishing thing: no one would be disappointed if we skipped this one. And if they were, how much did that matter, anyway?

I don’t have to justify myself to anyone

It’s staggering to think of all the precious time and energy I’ve spent worrying about what other people think or doing things to please everyone but myself. One of the liberating things about my life today is the realization that I don’t have to justify myself to anyone. My previous marriage was all about becoming someone I didn’t recognize in order to appease an unhappy person who could never be pleased with anything. Over the years, I’ve joined different groups, churches, etc., looking for a place to fit in with like-minded people, only to find that (a) I guess I don’t “fit in,” and (b) maybe I don’t want to, anyway. I don’t mean to say there are no nice people in churches or civic organizations, or that these groups aren’t worthwhile. Some people shine in this kind of environment and foster the best in themselves and others. Perhaps I am just not one of those people. I need lots of alone time to hear and follow the sound of my own thoughts. For a long time, I couldn’t distinguish them from the noise of other people’s voices.

I’m still pretty new at this, but the results have been surprising. Allowing space for my own original thoughts has revealed layers of myself I didn’t know existed. I have strong opinions about life and the world that I would never have expressed before. There’s a newfound courage to say no to things that make me uncomfortable, like invitations to noisy parties or horror movies. When I was a rather idealistic young girl, I had these same feelings, but in the interest of harmonious conformity, I pushed them aside. What a relief to rediscover myself!

Whose tree is it, anyway?

A few days before Christmas, I was on the phone with my sister Gina, who lives in Alabama with her 8-year-old son Max. She was lamenting that Max wasn’t interested in helping her decorate their Christmas tree. “Were Kevin and Jared [my sons] the same when they were little?” she asked.

“Absolutely!” I admitted. “They didn’t care one bit about the tree, just the presents underneath it!”

Little Santa
Kevin, many moons ago

For a couple of years, I was resentful of this. Here I am, trying to make Christmas memories for my children – how dare they be so uncooperative! But, as I shared with my sister, I finally realized I had to figure out why I wanted a tree. Was it for the boys? Or was it for me? If it was for the boys, and they didn’t care about it, then why bother doing it? On the other hand, if the Christmas tree was for myself, then the right approach should be joyful, because it was special to me, something I did for my own happiness. The answer was simple: I treasured this gentle, timeless ritual, hanging my collection of sentimental ornaments and twinkling lights on a humble little tree while singing my favorite carols off-key. Once I made peace with that, I enjoyed trimming my tree every single year – until this year.

I’m not planning to make this a permanent thing. Maybe just this once. It was nice to take a break, to be relaxed and unburdened, and not do something just because that’s the way I always did it. If there are grandchildren in our future, I hope Christmases will include lighted trees, shiny gifts, cookie baking and hot cocoa. Of course, our boys could decide not to have children, which is completely within their right. After all, they don’t have to please anyone but themselves, either. But at this point in my life, this subdued season was sweet, and just what I needed.

It met my own expectations perfectly.

Happy New Year!

Christmas 2016 – I love my little tree

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