December 1 is a rough day for me.
This time of the year is not the joyous time it once was. It is a struggle for me to put up the tree, make my house festive, and look at everyone’s beautiful decor when they invite us over for celebrations.
On December 1st, 9 years ago, I walked away from a 21-year marriage. When I left, I took the car, a dresser, some boxes of personal items and my daughter’s bedroom furniture.
It was meant to be, and I don’t feel the loss of being married to the man I shared my life with for a quarter of a century. I don’t grieve for the failure of my marriage and I have never regretted leaving, for I chased my dreams, met a wonderful man, and have been living a “pretty” life for the past 8 years. I cannot complain.
Until Christmas season comes along.
My partner, Dave is NOT a big Christmas guy. For him, his memories are his parents arguing and eventually splitting up. Their divorce became finalized during the Christmas holidays. He is not into gifts, he doesn’t believe in spending money on luxurious or silly items, just to have them piled up in pretty paper under the tree. He likes to run away over the holidays, and lay on a beach, enjoying cigars. We have done this a few years and as much as I enjoy it, I miss Christmas.
I left all of my traditions behind when I left my marriage.
I left behind me, spending hours preparing turkey dinner and all the extras, on Christmas Eve and having a houseful of guests to entertain. I left behind, the tradition of opening up pajamas on Christmas Eve with my daughter, so we would look cute and cozy on Christmas morning. I left the morning, curled up watching Hallmark movies in bed with my little girl, and I left behind the “feeling” of love and closeness with the little family my ex-husband and I created.
When I was a child, I learned that Christmas could be beautiful and magical one year, and hell the next. My parents were alcoholics, and my father was abusive. When we spent Christmas with my grandmother, it was always fun, and the spirit hung in the air, like fairy dust. She would make sure I had a new winter coat, every year, and a new pair of jeans, wrapped under the tree. These were luxuries for me as a child, and I always KNEW that I could rely on her to make sure that winters would be warmer because of her thoughtfulness. She always bought me a pair of designer jeans, so that kids at school wouldn’t pick on me for being poor.
At home, however, festive air hung like a black cloud. Texas Mickeys would line my mother’s countertop, along with every kind of “mix” to put in them. They would either go out to drink and bring people home with them to indulge and get plastered, or they would have a party with their group of creepy friends, who acted inappropriately around myself and my brother and sister. My dad had two friends who insisted they kiss me, a little girl, under the mistletoe, and they would shove their tongue in my mouth before they laughed at me.
Sometimes, the night would end with my dad yelling at us or my mother, “Merry Fucking Christmas!” before he passed out. Sometimes, it would end with my dad making visits to my bedroom, which eventually put him in jail. It was literally the best time of year or the most horrible time of year. Some years Santa would come, and some years he would just “forget” to show up until my hungover parents crawled out of bed at 11:00 complaining of headaches, asking us all to be quiet.
When my daughter was born, that all changed.
My husband and I began traditions of giving each other an ornament for the year. Our first years as husband and wife were tough. We had little money, but we always found small, thoughtful gifts for each other. His mom always had a lavish dinner and it was a lovely evening of card or board games. When our daughter came into our world, she was added to our traditions. Each Christmas Eve, we would all open a big box (PJ’s) and a little box (ornaments) and spend the evening after a huge family dinner, curled up on the couch watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We would sip eggnog or tea, and just embrace the warmth inside our little home.
I MADE SURE that my daughter always had the most wonderful Christmas. I loved playing Santa and wrapping as many little treasures as I could find, for her to open. She always received something she REALLY wanted as her Santa gift, and all the things she needed, or that I felt she needed, as other gifts. I loved buying thoughtful gifts for my husband and wrapping them all with cute little tags on them. We would make a nice breakfast together, making sure there was always chips and dip, orange pop, and all of the treats from our childhood that we thought of as “Christmas treats”. We would snack on junk and leftovers all day, and watch movies or work as a family on a Jigsaw puzzle.
In the weeks before Christmas, my daughter and I spent hours finding fun Christmas cookie and bar recipes to create, and we bonded over blending recipes and burning trays of cookies. I liked to be as “Martha Stewart” as I could, and every year we would go out and chop down the “perfect tree”. Some years we would string popcorn, and other years we would spread pretty decor all over the house.
These were amazing, magical years.
When We Split:
Once we separated, Christmas became awkward for all of us. My daughter was 17, and the first year, Christmas was raw and painful. I had been on my own for 25 days, and she went to her dad’s for his Christmas supper with the rest of his family. I got a “pity” invite to my friend’s house, which made me feel hopeless and lost. I went home, after one of the worst turkey dinners I had ever eaten, sat in my empty condo and stared out at the falling snow, sobbing.
The second year, I made every effort to make Christmas fun again. My daughter and I put up our own artificial tree and we had our boyfriends over for supper. It was strained and heavy. Our “guys” were lost on our traditions, and as much as they wanted to be a part of it, it was like a private joke that only my daughter and I shared. There was no laughter from them during National Lampoon’s Christmas, and all of our efforts seemed to be for naught. My guy, Dave, told me that he thought Christmas was overrated and that I don’t NEED to buy him gifts. He thanked me for his new hockey jersey and for buying him PJ’s but reminded me that he already had a jersey and never wore Pj’s, so it seemed like a waste of my hard earned money.
Since then, I have left the town that my ex-husband lives in. I live 3 hours away from my daughter, who is now 25 and has her OWN life. I am 3 hours South of her, and my ex is 2.5 hours North from her.
Every year, she chooses NORTH.
I should be angry. I should be bitter. I should be upset that he WINS every year. But I’m not.
Hurt? Yes. Sad every year? Yes. Anxiety and depression creeps in and takes over, and I struggle.
My daughter makes an effort to come and have “our Christmas” but it’s typically in late January. I leave the stupid tree up for an extra month, or more, in hopes that we can “re-create” the traditions we once shared. By this time, the feelings and excitement of the holiday season are well behind everyone, and Valentine’s Day decorations are in the stores. People are stressing about New Year’s resolutions and Tax season. They are paying off their credit cards from their frivolous gift giving and looking forward to an early spring. She shows up and we make a weak attempt at pretending it’s Christmas. It sucks.
Every December, my daughter makes her way to her dad’s house TWICE. Once to bake cookies and laugh with him and his new girlfriend, and then again, to share in all of the traditions that he and I created. When he and I were married, he never ONCE joined us in the kitchen to bake or to giggle with us while we tried new recipes and made a huge mess.
When she joins him at Christmas, she spends time with his brother’s family, over turkey and Christmas movies and game nights, just like we once did. They make a nice breakfast together in the morning and she wakes to the magic in the air, that he and I created for her, since her very first Christmas. It pains me to imagine the sparkly magical air, and the sounds of laughter and peace in his family. BUT I am happy for her.
I have to feel Peaceful and content that these traditions are instilled in her. I want the legacy of beautiful holiday feelings and happiness to be passed on with her. I never want her to hear someone yelling “Merry Fucking Christmas” or to feel afraid to fall asleep at night, knowing that a monster lurks outside her bedroom door. I want her to know that Christmas isn’t about the gifts that I give her, or that she receives from everyone. It’s about that special feeling that the holidays bring, where you can enjoy family moments, laughter and warmth.
This year, Dave and I will have a quiet Christmas. I am hoping to spend Christmas morning searching online for last minute, cheap all inclusive trips, and hop a plane during the holiday season. I am putting up a few “It’s Christmas time” items to make our home feel different, but it still won’t FEEL like the Christmases in my past. He and I have decided to buy one small item for each other to open Christmas morning and spend Christmas Eve at our neighbour’s for some card games. I am NOT leaving the tree up past January 2. “If” she comes to see us, it will not feel like Christmas in January. We may take a trip and deliver her presents so I don’t have to extend the season into next year.
Dave and I need our OWN traditions, and if that tradition is to NOT have traditions, I need to be okay with it. 364 days of the year, I love my life with him, and I am content with that.
I will miss my daughter while she spends the time with her dad, and I will long for the magic of Christmas, but honestly, she is an adult now. She needs to make her own decisions and find the peace and contentment in the season. She needs to have her Christmas.