I have no way of knowing under what circumstances you’re reading this, whether you’re on your way home for the holidays or headed to work, trying to finish your shopping or just catching your breath.
It would be foolish of me to assume anything about what your holidays might look like, since you might not even know. I hope they’re peaceful and spent with those you love, but that can be harder than it sounds.
Tomorrow will be whatever it is, and it often looks nothing like the Christmas cards. Our families have bent into all sorts of surprising shapes, and some of us are trying to make it to two or more Christmases, sometimes in different cities or countries.
Travel at this time of year is rough because it’s so often mandatory and schedules are tight. The weather is predictably unpredictable and countless people find themselves stranded in airports, in hotels, anywhere but where they planned to be. Mangers, even.
And for many of us, there are empty, unfillable spots at the table, where somebody used to be and never will be again. That hurt gets quieter, but it doesn’t go away, and it has a way of flaring up at this time of year. It isn’t all Merry Happy.
One of the best Christmases I remember was also one of the worst. My father had died only a couple of months before and the rest of us were going to get together at my sister’s, traditional as can be, closing ranks against grief.
It didn’t work out that way. Instead, we got waylaid 300 miles away with a house full of burst pipes and a stack of estate and insurance chores to chew over with a lawyer who didn’t want to be there either.
We ended up stuck in a motel room, but we were stuck together. We had some laughs as well as some sobs, and got some laundry done at the coin wash. O holy night.
It wasn’t what we expected and this holiday seldom is. Expectations are a big part of the problem, as we all try to transform ourselves from real people to perfect happy families in perfect happy sweaters.
So have yourself a merry little whatever, try to accept the relatives for who they are and who they are trying to be for the occasion. I wish you surpassingly great presents and more hugs than you can handle, but if it doesn’t work out, you’ll be in good company as we imperfectly celebrate another year of this imperfect, irreplaceable life.