Christmas is a weird time for me.
When I was a kid, Christmas was the time that I had to be very careful to not show either of my (divorced) parents more favor than the other. There was a lot of careful planning among my whole family to make sure that Christmas was evenly divided. I had to be sure to play with all my toys in front of the people who gave them to me. I had to be sure to spend an equal amounts of time with each parent. I had to be sure I told everyone that I loved them. My feeling around Christmas was one of brittleness, of walking on eggshells. All of my Christmas traditions were things I did to show that I cared about someone. They were mostly about display.
My wife had a very different Christmas experience growing up, and it's been a bit of a trip getting used to it. Christmas for her is a series of traditions done out of fun and joy. The strange thing to me is that her traditions are mostly the same things, but they feel very different when I do them with her and her family.
I'm realizing that my walking-on-eggshell feeling at childhood Christmases was mainly an internal thing. As I let go of the need to manage other peoples' feelings, Christmas gets more fun even with my family. This year I even enjoyed my own family Christmas traditions when visiting my mom. They weren't a thing I had to be sure to do right, at risk of hurting a loved one. They were a thing that we could all just enjoy doing together.
I am taking more of a risk that I offend someone, but I'm also feeling less like that's the most important thing. If someone gets offended or upset, that now seems like a chance to talk about real feelings and figure things out. As a kid I felt that any problem was world-ending, and I'm now realizing that most of my most feared interpersonal problems are recoverable.
The best thing for me about this new way of doing Christmas has been a deep sense of being at home. Sitting together and looking at a Christmas tree, or at the snow outside, took on a deeper sense of meaning than it ever has for me. I had a sense of being connected, not just to my family, but to all of the people throughout history who have looked with joy at new fallen snow. I had a sense of my own place in the world, which I'm not sure I'd noticed I'd never had.
Today, after the torn bits of paper and string had been cleaned away, I sat and looked out at the snow with my wife and had a great internal feeling of peace. A true feeling of Christmas spirit.
What's funny is how much that Christmas spirit worried me. As soon as I started noticing myself feeling like things were fine, I started worrying that I'd lose all motivation. If I'm happy and at peace, why work to make the world a better place?
I think my worry points to something important about the reasons that I do non-Christmas things. Childhood Christmases were all about making sure I did things to let people know I cared about them, not actually about enjoying the day or actually even caring about them. Perhaps many of my motivations for the rest of my life are based on similar foundations.
I'd like to enjoy my life and have a deep sense of meaning from everything I do. I'd also like to make people's lives better and do as much as I can to fix the world's problems. On the surface these things don't seem incompatible. This is something I'll be exploring in the year to come.
Maybe next Christmas I won't be so surprised, or worried, when I feel the Christmas-spirit coming on.