By Wendy Weseen
A new year has arrived and instead of reflecting on my own harsh realities and vowing to make resolutions and changes, I’ve been reflecting on the speedy passage of yet another long anticipated Christmas season, feeling relieved, and wondering about its meaning, knowing I had made a change in my Christmas narrative.
I was christened in The Church of England in Coronation Street country, slap dab in the middle of a sprawling cluster of towns enveloping a glass factory. I was raised with the traditional Christian nativity story. As a child, I longed to be Mother Mary in the Christmas pageants of my childhood. But invariably got to be a shepherd instead, except once when I moved up to being a golden angel with translucent wings that slipped sideways.
There was no doubt what Christmas meant and it was the same for all people around me; everyone was doing the same things. Memories of dolls with eyes that closed and peed when you gave them a tiny baby bottle, and that I orchestrated into tea parties, spanked when I was bad, and put to bed ahead of me, still flash in my inward eye. As I grew older, Monopoly, board games and jigsaw puzzles became a Christmas institution where we fought to be the Model T Ford silver car and made each other sort the edge pieces of our puzzles first. My Christmases were complete with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, carol singing, turkey and trimmings, mandarin oranges, English trifle soaked in real sherry, mince tarts, and shortbreads always with the threat of coal in our stockings if we weren’t good. Christmas as a child was pure magic and I worked hard to make it the same for my own children. They passed through the same journey, stumbling through more Christmas pageants and carol festivals, and experiencing the Christmas morning gift hit.
After my marriage ended, I tried to fit a new puzzle piece into an old frame of edge pieces that contained the picture of how Christmas used to be. My new experiences of Christmas no longer reflected the family fairy tale and I’d never examined the outrageous expectations placed on me to create the family Christmas until I literally lost it. The Christmas experience no longer shone for me and didn’t fit the cultural template of a joyful Christmas. I suffered the loss of what was and faced a reality out-of-step with the one flaunted in the barrage of romantic movies and advertising.
This year, I was ready to embrace a new narrative — let go of the smart, slick scenario of the classic family assembling on Christmas morning with over-the-top joy embedded in togetherness and the ripping open of gifts. On Christmas morning I took a stocking of small gifts for my amazing 97-year-old mother at Kamloops Seniors Village who is living in the here-and-now. I allowed myself to fully feel the joy she touches me with and stayed for Christmas brunch, sitting with five of her fellow residents at their dining room table, savouring French toast, sausages, strawberries and cream. Stories of childhood Christmases and past seasonal adventures encircled the table like a Christmas garland and I experienced the true message of love which is what Christmas means to me and that came from embracing a wholehearted path.