Kitten playing with ornaments inside a christmas tree,

They are upon us…The Holidays

When my favourite cousin, Karen, asked if I would write an article for her Multiple Sclerosis magazine about the holidays in this country I thought to myself, where do I start?

The Empty Chair

So here is the holiday report, but first I want to acknowledge those of you who are grieving. Holidays are painful for those people who live with The Empty Chair. I am one of them. My John’s favourite holiday was Christmas and he would decorate the house, buy a lot of gifts and became quite animated at the fun. 

I understand how these holidays impact people who dread the pain they cause. I get it. I always tell people to grieve the way they want to;  never let anyone tell  you how to grieve. I work a great deal with bereaved parents and depending on the age of the child, they want to buy toys. They look to how they can fill that gaping hole and buy toys, often taking them to children in hospitals or shelters. The loss of a child doesn’t have an age –  it’s the wrong order of nature.

People often ask me how they can help their family and friends at such times. I tell them to listen, be available, and to ask if there is anything they want, not need. Of course, they want their child back, which is not possible, but being heard, maybe sharing photographs, remembering funny incidents and not being judged because they are laughing. Ninety percent of my work is listening.                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Traditions are for Breaking

Now I’ll begin at the start of the frantic season, with what is known as Thanksgiving Day. Historically it began after a Wampanoag leader named Massasoit negotiated a peace treaty in 1620, with an agreement with settlers that no member of either group would bring each other harm.  In 1621, Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts and a number of allies from the Wampanoag tribe gathered for a three-day harvest feast. That peace would not last. The population of colonists exploded, bringing disease, unrest and wars over the land. The history and events are complicated and tragic. Native Americans were robbed of an entire country. They were given $25 for the purchase of Manhattan, New York State!

I start with this day as it begins the total nuttiness over here. It is the last Thursday in November and the day after the Day is called Black Friday. This is when people go absolutely bonkers. THE BEGINNING OF CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!

Supposedly the stores have a certain amount of reduced prices, and people used to line up the night before so they can invade the store of their choice to grab whatever they consider to be a bargain. I don’t know if it is still the case after COVID – so much has changed. I know there can be riots! The staff of these stores have to go in the night before to prepare for the onslaught.

My granddaughter, Courtney, managed a store in the local Mall. She had to leave the Thanksgiving dinner at her parents’ house to get to her store by 8pm and stay overnight to open early for the morning rush. Did I say early? How about 6 am? Some of the other stores open at 2am and some at midnight. This is THANKSGIVING – GIVING THANKS, you know?

Apparently that is no longer the case. Giving thanks is spoiling people’s holidays for what? Crazy. They are thinking in some cases, of making it Black Week! The ‘black’ was adopted because it is the beginning of the Christmas shopping season so the incomes in the stores were in the black rather than in the red during other parts of the year. Really. The stores become madhouses as if there were never sales or discounts. Needless to say I never went out on Black Friday! When I first came to this country in 1968, stores were closed on Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas and New Year. Not anymore. It is rather sad that nothing is more important than commerce these days.

The commercials on television are outrageous at this time of year. Talk about keeping up with the Joneses!

”Be the first on your block to own………………”.

“Let  your child be the first to own………………….”

I am sure it is elsewhere yet with my memory of English television (many years ago of course) there was none of that. Of course when I lived in England, there was only BBC – that’s how long it has been. The post office is a nightmare and those of us who have post delivered to our mailboxes find them jammed with promotions day after day after day. They start in October because Halloween is BIG over here – yes, I forgot that one. Empty stores are taken over for a couple of months just for Halloween costumes. It really is insane, and I am not being a Scrooge with the Bah Humbug attitude.

Of course, we cannot overlook road rage insanity to get to the stores as fast as possible. Again – utterly bonkers. A week ago, I was at a traffic light when the car behind me jammed into me. I pulled over and whoever was driving the other car, backed off and took off. A week later I am beginning to feel aches and pains I never felt before. It’s taken awhile so I am off to the doctor again!

So here comes Christmas Day. Are the stores closed? A lot of them are because rebellious staff simply say NO. There are also stores and warehouses who respect the family aspect of celebration and close on all holidays. That’s how it should be. Surely one day won’t cause a nervous breakdown to shoppers? I take that back – there are some people who are very resentful that they can’t go to their favourite shop every single day. ‘Tis the truth!

On Christmas Day people are congenial.  They even smile from time to time. There are office parties etc., and now they provide designated drivers or cabs to take their guests, who are often feeling no pain, to their various residences. That’s a good idea. Of course, there is complaining about going back to work the next day whereupon my delightful smugness rises to its highest peak when I tell them they are in the wrong country.

Boxing Day

WE HAVE BOXING DAY. Then I have to explain Boxing Day whereupon they decide it is time to hop a plane to Heathrow! My friend thought of coming to London for the Christmas holidays until she was told her fare would be $1200 and there are four of them in the family! That was without the hotels, taxes etc. Please don’t tell me stores open on Boxing Day in the UK? The UK tends to follow America in many ways as my cousin told me. They have started Black Friday! Oh, the shame of it ! 

Let me explain Boxing Day. I believe this started in approximately 1871. There are many different opinions – of course, why wouldn’t there be? As to the history, I was told it was the day after Christmas Day when the Lords of the Manor would have their staff box up their leftovers and give them to the peasants who worked their land. I’m sticking to is as it makes sense to me.

After Christmas, the madness continues to New Year’s Eve. New York is the centre of attention in Times Square where the crystal ball descends at midnight. It is a beautiful object made in Waterford, Ireland. I look at the crowds sometimes and often wonder how they all get home! January 1 is like the lack of Boxing Day all over again. Is January 1 still a holiday in the UK? Whilst writing this, I wonder if things have changed so drastically over there.  I hope not. I don’t want further disillusionments!

I know it all sounds depressing. It isn’t. There are some beautiful decorations and gigantic Christmas trees in huge public centres. Some television programmes are enjoyable. We even get Scrooge with Alistair Sims. That’s going back a bit. For a couple of years I did a one woman presentation as Mrs. Crachett at a teashop. What a hoot!

Harvest table

How To Say It, How to Celebrate It

Now we come to acceptable wishes! Happy Chanukah and Happy or Merry Christmas are frowned upon as they have religious connotations. Of course, I wish people Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyful Kwanza and the rest of them. I feel it is encroaching on my freedom not to recognize the celebration of people’s different faiths and wish them well….and you thought America was the home of the free, freedom of speech. Right!

So it is established that the holidays have become true commerce except for some people who want to either follow the day with the true meaning and others who give their time to allow others to celebrate with their families. In this area, Jewish people give time to hospitals so the staff who observe Christmas can be with their families.  I used to go to the local prison Christmas Day morning to help open all the gifts so that if there was any contraband we could remove it. It was great fun.

The things I found in the false heels of shoes… such creativity.

There are food kitchens and people who go to the homeless with blankets and gloves. I have a colleague who presents workshops this time of year voluntarily with the payment fee being socks. All the attendees have to bring a pair of socks or more than one pair if possible. Then off he goes to homeless shelters. My daughter Rosanne and her husband Jim used to go into Philadelphia with scarves and gloves every Christmas for the homeless. There’s a store on Welsh Road in Horsham called Sprouts. They have brown bags at the check outs that one can buy. Then the staff fill these bags with food for the holiday, donated to those who cannot afford meals. Clever I think, and I am going back to get more.

There is immense generosity in this country among ordinary people. Regardless of our personal faith or religion, we want to give. As an Interfaith Minister, I believe the true meaning of religion is love and doing good. I am speechless at the power of the human spirit and those who instill it in others all year round. Miracles. Earth Angels thrive everywhere.

There was a Catholic Priest in Camden, New Jersey. He was born and raised in Ireland and had been the Priest in residence for close to fifty years. This man, with his extraordinary courage, raised money to fill 2000 baskets of food for needy families. That’s Christmas, that’s Religion, that’s Faith.

Those of us who are ‘”human becoming’s” as Og Mandino wrote, learn all the time and look to where our skills and our caring does the most, for the most. My particular interest this year is working with the First Responders, such as Firefighters, Police, Veterans, and Ambulance men and women who suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I love it.

A strange awareness came to me about three months ago when I realised everything I had gone through in my life was part of the training for who I am today. I can’t account for it otherwise. That realisation has helped me help others help themselves. Does that make sense? At this time of year it is part of my job to create an aura of dignity for those who gave so much to protect us. I loathe war. I was raised in one, but I will defend the warriors, many of whom had very little choice but to go wherever they were sent.

So, holidays in this country are split right down the middle. Those who give and those who take. There are grey areas but few.

With all this, there is the fun aspect of it all. Laughter – the great healer – is in abundance. There is nothing like hearing people who really do not have fulfilled lives, howl with laughter at something that is very silly. Silly is good. Gratitude is wonderful. I make a gratitude list every so often with very simple things. At this time of year it is gratitude that all my grandchildren save two, prefer a cheque!!! Whew! What a relief.

Have any kind of holiday you want. Give, receive, do whatever makes you feel great and that can be passed onto to others.

Remember, you can’t give what you don’t have, so being honest with yourself allows you to do what is necessary for others.

Photo credits:

Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “They are upon us…The Holidays

  1. Thanks for reminding me that getting out and about more and visiting with my children and grandchildren of choice means I hear and make more laughter. I feel ambivalent about spending Christmas with my son Adam and his tribe. It will be the most celebrating of the holiday I’ve experienced in many years. It will, like basically all my celebrations since my Meg’s death, be bittersweet, but there will be a lot of laughing. I know you’ll have the holiday(s) as you like and hope there is more sweet than bitter. Love to you and your tribe.

  2. I was recommended this website by my cousin I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my difficulty You are wonderful Thanks

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