As I rounded the corner of a street in my neighborhood this past week, I caught a glint of sunlight reflecting from a Christmas glass decoration hanging on the limb of a spindly tree. I started to smile in anticipation of seeing all the trees along the curbside of this street holding a single tree ornament. I was not to be disappointed as it became obvious the display continued for several blocks.
This is the third holiday season of the mystery decorator. Rumors circulate that this is the work of Helen, an older woman who lives in the neighborhood and likes to spend her time on long walks. I envision her selecting the ornaments and under the cover of evening dark or early morning light, making her way along the street, leaving a symbol of holiday cheer for each tree. I’d like to ask her how this came to be. As a child, I thought that if I lay awake all night I would surely catch Santa coming in with those gifts I would find under the tree the next morning. Helen must be as stealth-like as Santa. The ornaments appear without warning and will disappear just as suddenly.
It dawns on me that maybe her holiday season has changed from years gone by and she has created a new tradition; a way to bring some spirit to strangers and neighbors.
This year I found myself uncharacteristically in a rut about Christmas, full of mixed emotions, and yet it has always been my favorite time of year. I grew up celebrating Christmas and even though I moved a distance away, I always found myself traveling back home to share the joy with family.
This year will mark the second Christmas that we will be without our mother. Her absence seems more real this year, moving from the shock of loss to a clear understanding that she will not be making an appearance. She will not be in her apron working feverishly in a crowded, too small kitchen, making gravy while my father carves the turkey. Christmas has forever changed. I miss the Christmases of past and those who were such an integral part of the holiday.
Adjusting to the inevitable changes that come with time is what we all face as we age. In the time that has passed since those days of having our parents present there have been many changes in the family; a divorce, a marriage, a lost job, new jobs, sickness, healing, new homes, and a Christmas baby. This will be the first Christmas not spent with our daughter. She has a husband now and the day will belong to his family this year. The decision to forgo gift buying and instead choose a charity for a donation is another break from the tradition of gift opening and stockings. Our family decided upon some new traditions hoping to honor the parents who made the holiday so memorable.
We will make new traditions and reminisce about the old traditions. We will embrace the changes, knowing more changes will come with the passing of the years. There are so many who are without the gift of joy in their lives, struggling with holiday heartbreak. Pausing to appreciate all the good that surrounds us and empathizing with those who are suffering losses will let the spirit of the holiday season find you. We all have the power to give back. It is the gestures that count.
Life is complicated. Families are complicated. However, Helen found a way to simplify this time of year for me. I am willing to bet I am not the only one strolling along that street smiling and grateful for the reminder of what we have and what we can give. I hope to catch Helen in the act someday and thank her personally and ask her if I can add a second ornament to each of the trees next year. It will be my new tradition if she’ll have it.
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