Christmastime: The best of times, the worst of times

This post by Mike Staton.
This post by Mike Staton.

I love Christmastime. Since mom’s death a decade ago, I’ve come to appreciate the hustle and bustle of the holidays – or as the song “Silver Bells” puts it, “Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile, and on every street you’ll hear Silver bells.”

For some drenching one’s self in Christmas spirit – celebrating the time of Christmas – results in only dread and sadness. Luckily, I’m not one of them, but I understand the darkness that oftentimes encloses their hearts.

Several years ago after I wrote a holiday column a fellow writer said she’d lost her mother at Christmas time, turning the holiday into a time of melancholy. Yet she had to forge on and make sure her children had wonderful Christmases.

For some, Christmastime is a struggle. Maybe they've lost a loved one and can't get into the holiday mood. Some are poor and alone, and can't afford to immerse themselves in all the Christmas requirements.
For some, Christmastime is a struggle. Maybe they’ve lost a loved one and can’t get into the holiday mood. Some are poor and alone, and can’t afford to immerse themselves in all the Christmas requirements.

Back in the early ‘90s the mother of my sister Jody’s husband passed away during the Christmas season. They had three girls, one just entering her teenage years, the other two still in elementary school. They couldn’t cancel Christmas morning even with their hearts open wounds gushing with sadness. So they opened gifts and observed the traditions even though they’d buried her just days before. In the years that followed, my sister and her husband continued to provide the most joyous possible Christmas for their girls, both in faith and in secular gift buying. In their household, wrapping paper falls like snow.

Eleven years ago in mid-November, our mom passed away from ALS, less than a week from my birthday, two weeks from Thanksgiving and six weeks from Christmas. Jody made sure I had a birthday cake, just like mom would do when I spent the holidays with them. We ate Thanksgiving dinner together, then in December took communion at Jody’s church on Christmas Eve and opened presents on Christmas Day. Just a few weeks before mom’s death, Jody helped mom pick out gifts for the girls from an Avon catalogue. While Christmas shopping with the girls, Jody surprised them when they handed them mom’s gifts. I don’t recall Jody’s exact words, but can paraphrase, “Your grandma picked out Christmas gifts for you. In case the Lord called her home before Christmas, she wanted me to give them to you a couple days before Christmas so you’d not be sad on Christmas Day.”

My mother, who died in 2003 from ALS, loved Christmastime. Remembering  her joy at Christmas, I try to go the extra mile as December 25 gets closer. That's the reason for my Christmas card series I've been doing on Facebook. Merry Christmas, everyone.
My mother, who died in 2003 from ALS, loved Christmastime. Remembering her joy at Christmas, I try to go the extra mile as December 25 gets closer. That’s the reason for my Christmas card series I’ve been doing on Facebook. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Mom loved Christmas… she loved to holiday-shop and listen to the Carols playing in the stores, loved to bake Christmas cookies and candy, loved to put up the tree and hang the ornaments, loved to watch her grandkids unwrap their presents, loved to reminisce about past Christmases. Remembering just how happy mom was at Christmas helps me continue to bask in Christmas spirit in spite of the rough times we all experience.

So when you’re in a mall or a traditional downtown store or perhaps walking into a cinema or taking a walk through a snowy park, if you see someone who looks harried or glum, remember to say a simple “Merry Christmas.” They may break into a wide smile or they may ignore you outwardly. But inwardly they’re glad you took the time to connect with them, especially if they’re coping the best they can with rough times.


22 thoughts on “Christmastime: The best of times, the worst of times

  1. So true about the sadness. A very close friend lost her husband of 40+ years last spring and I know Christmas will be very hard for her this year. Our hospice is doing three special support groups right now for those who have lost spouses, children, or others this year. Yet another friend is praying their loved one makes it “home” for Christmas, transitioning from nursing home to heaven. I think it helps to remove some of the secular part and remember it’s a birthday celebration for Immanuel–God with us. And that is a reason for continued joy. But we are still sad when we have to celebrate it without the presence of a loved one here on earth, yet be happy for the real reason we celebrate Christmas. It definitely brings conflicting feelings for many, and I love your advice to say Merry Christmas to everyone, no matter how glum they may look. They probably have a good reason for their feelings. And not everyone celebrates for the same reason.


    1. Thanks, Neva. When I’d drive up to SE Ohio from Wilmington, NC to spend Christmas with Mom and my sister’s family, mom and I would go to Christmas Eve services at her church. Now, if I’m visiting my sister, I go to their Christmas Eve services.


  2. I enjoyed this post very much Mike, especially the part about saying Merry Christmas to strangers. Who knows, we might brighten up their day and give them a little bit of the feeling of Christmas. I know firsthand how any kind of tragedy can try to ruin future Christmases, but if you remember the “reason for the season” how can you not celebrate? In 1977 my folks and sibs came to our home for an early celebration, dinner and opening presents. My family is the kind who sleep on sleeping bags on the floor, the couch or anywhere else they can find a spot. For some reason, that year they decided to stay at our local motel (which was about 7 miles from us in town.) My Dad had recently had heart surgery and Mom thought sleeping in a bed would be better for him. We had a good time that evening, sang carols, ate too much, opened presents and had a grand time. With hugs and kisses they left to get a good night’s sleep and we did the same. We had recently been doing some remodeling work on the small cabin we lived in, so the bedroom wall between our room and our children’s was partially torn down. Sometime in the early hours of the morning I smelled smoke. We had a wood-burning furnace so I didn’t think too much of it for a minute or so, then saw smoke rolling in from the kitchen. I quickly woke my husband, we each grabbed a kid and flew out the front door as the flames engulfed the kitchen on their way to the living room. We had thrown on light clothes and no coats. My husband began moving vehicles away from the front of the house and I jumped in our car and ran to a neighbor’s house to call the fire department. Even though we lived in a rural area the fire department arrived in about ten minutes. They fought to save the house but it was totaled, leaving us homeless for Christmas. Of course my family was stunned, but we were all glad they had gone to the motel or there might have been casualties. We had one of the most wonderful Christmases that year as local businesses reached out with food and clothes, as well as friends offering anything we needed. One businessman ran an apartment building and he immediately installed us in one at no charge. Other friends bought and wrapped Christmas gifts for my two children, brought a Christmas Tree and cookies to the apartment and lent us emotional support. One good thing is that I had my shopping done very early that year and had most of the stuff stashed at a friends house so it wouldn’t be found by prying eyes during our renovation. I think of that Christmas every year and give thanks to God, for sparing our lives and giving us such wonderful support. I can truly say Merry Christmas and mean it!


    1. Thanks for sharing the story of your 1970s Christmas, Linda. Those last two sentences sum it up perfectly, ” I think of that Christmas every year and give thanks to God, for sparing our lives and giving us such wonderful support. I can truly say Merry Christmas and mean it!”


  3. The people I lost recently also enjoyed Christmas, and I don’t think they would want me to spend the holiday mourning them so I try to put on a brave face and succeed most of the time. I hope you also have a good holiday.


  4. Mike, this is so touching. Merry Christmas. Most of us have lost someone dear close to some holiday. Your Mom’s love of Christmas reminds me of my Mom’s. I have always loved the Christmas bustle, but not as much now as I did when I was younger. That’s sad. I ordered all my gifts online, but my shopping is done, mostly.


    1. Yes, Cherley, as we age we have lost someone dear to us and can’t help but think of them during the Christmas season. I too do order many of my gifts online, but not all. I do like to go out one day at Christmastime and shop. Kind of done in memory of those times when mom and I would Christmas shop during my visits to Ohio.


  5. I think it is always the good people in one’s life that we miss the most. It says a lot about who they were and what they did while they were living. You’re mother sounds special. Wishing you the best Mike and Merry Christmas.


  6. Beautiful, any other word would just get in the way. Thank you for sharing your life and Christmas memories with all of us. Merry Christmas to you, my friend. Doris


  7. Mike, thanks for sharing your story. The Christmas holidays–holidays in general–can be very hard. It’s hard not to miss the loved ones who are no longer there. But while we never stop missing them, we can do things like you have in remembrance or take the time to remember the blessing of having them in our lives for the time we had. Merry Christmas to you!


  8. Mike, this post is truly wonderful! My maternal grandfather died two days after Christmas; I was only seven but I do remember the sadness felt by our family for a few years afterward, and I still remember that last Christmas shared with him. Thank you for sharing your memories and your words with us. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU!


    1. Hay, Gayle, it’s wonderful that you still remember the last Christmas shared with your grandfather. My fraternal grandpa died in August 1960, and although it wasn’t at Christmastime, we have an old Christmas 1958 home movie that includes scenes of him with his present — a new saw. Through the years I’ve watched that home movie and focused my gaze on him. I was your age when he died, so he isn’t so clear in memory had he lived longer, into my teenage years. But I’m grateful for that home movie… he has great joy on his face.


  9. We’ve always loved Christmas, of course, but this year our celebrations will be muted. I expect to hear some time today that my nephew has passed. (Cancer and only 46) And I’ll probably driving to L.A. this weekend for his funeral. Even thought we hadn’t had a lot of contact – mainly heard about him from my Sis – I don’t quite know how to react. Christmas celebrations certainly don’t seem the thing.

    The odd thing is his father lost a sister on Christmas Day when he was a teenager. Now he’s lost a son. Hopefully his Alzheimer’s will mute his grief.

    Don’t mean to be a downer. Hope everyone has a great Christmas.


  10. Sad and happy memories make up the pattern of life, Mike. My mother died at Christmas time (21 st Dec 2001) and we also had to get on with what had been planned for the younger members of the family. Alzheimer’s is also on her death certificate as well as a few other causes. Good memories, for me, count for more than sadness.


    1. Well said, Nancy. “Sad and happy memories make up the pattern of life.” I almost put a vignette in my column, but decided against it. When I was home visiting mom and my sister around 15 years ago in the town where I went to high school, a toddler unexpectedly died a few days after Christmas. His mom and dad placed one of his new toys with him in the casket. I’ve often wondered how that family is doing now… I really should get an update from my sister.


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