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At the barn the other evening, my trainer and a couple of my fellow riding students were sharing their excitement about the upcoming holiday party. While most of them have been with this trainer for years, they all just moved to this ranch within the last year and this would be the first holiday party in their new beautiful barn home. One rider said she had a pre-lit tree she could bring in and they were trying to decide the best place to put it.
To be honest, as the holiday season approaches, I find myself feeling a little lost. I have no hometown; both of my parents are gone, and my siblings and I are leading very separate lives. What used to be one of my favorite times of the year has become a non-event for me and I admit that I’ve struggled with the pressure to find joy and meaning in the season.
When I was a kid, Christmas could be such an exciting time. There was the inevitable excitement wondering what gifts were waiting for me under the tree and perhaps even better were my mother’s cinnamon rolls and sticky buns that filled the house with the most amazing smells.
When I first left home, I was working for a Sheriff’s Office as a dispatcher and that meant I had to work on holidays. My parents lived in the next state, and it was difficult to make time to travel to see them. Then came my time in the military and more years went by when I was deployed overseas and couldn’t make it home for Christmas.
After I left the military, I took a job with a company in Los Angeles and while on another coast, I was at least in the same country as my parents. Even better I had the holidays off and I was determined to finally be with them for Christmas.
I was so excited and wanted everything to be perfect. Being an avid list maker, I had written down everything I needed to bring and checked items off as I packed them. I included gifts for everyone, figured out what time I needed to leave to get to my flight on time, and had arranged for a co-worker to give me a ride to the airport. It was just as we arrived at the airport when I realized I had left my ticket at home. This was in the days of paper tickets and now there wasn’t time to go back home and get it. Suddenly I was in a complete panic and devastated at the idea that I wouldn’t be allowed to board the plane.
I was already in tears when I got to the ticket counter and through my blubbering told the agent how I hadn’t seen my mother in so long and hadn’t been home for Christmas in years and I forgot my ticket and please please could he help me?
There is no telling how this man normally did his job or how I might have perceived him at another time but on that day, he was my Christmas angel. He saw my need to be with my family and perhaps recognized the struggle we all have sometimes with finding our way home. He did some paperwork and printed a duplicate ticket and stepping from behind the desk, he personally escorted me to my gate and onto the plane.
There were more tears on arrival when I fell into my mother’s arms and we both cried for what seemed like a long time. I even heard my dad sniffle a few times before he cleared his throat and made fun of us girls for being weepy.
I made a point of going home every year for Christmas after that. I continued making my lists and always at the top in capital letters I’d write DON'T FORGET YOUR TICKET. I only missed one year when I was living in New York City and came down with a bad flu.
Those memories of being with my parents and my sister at Christmas as an adult are more precious to me than any of my childhood memories. As a child, the excitement of Christmas is about the gifts we might get. As an adult the joy in Christmas is seeing what we already have. I will always treasure those times. We shared so much humor and fun. I know that I will never laugh like that again with anyone else.
Since my parents have passed, Christmas hasn’t been the same. Without my parents as the anchor, my siblings and I drift farther apart. A couple of weeks ago I said to a friend I have no real family anymore and she, always eloquent, called horseshit on me. In her opinion, the problem is not my lack of family but rather my narrow definition of family.
I was thinking about that, standing in the barn aisle, listening to the debate about where to put the Christmas tree when someone asked me what I thought. Well, I paused for a moment looking around at their faces, by the door is a good spot for the tree, and oh yeah, I have this garland and ribbon horse head wreath I was going to put over my fireplace but haven’t had the energy to put up yet and it would be great here, and gosh I have a bunch of decorations I’m not using in my garage.
We went on to talk about what food to bring and who else we should invite and what we might wear. I smiled to myself as my friend’s point became clear.
The holidays are not about adhering to family tradition or recreating some past Christmas. For me, it is about letting go of sadness over the family that is gone and instead looking at what is around me and recognizing the true gift in what I have.
Family is not about blood, it’s about connection. Family is community. And family is what I have.
May the spirit of the season bring you love, peace, and joy.
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