Octo Observations: Holiday Challenges and Joys

Christmas/holiday time is challenging! So much to do, so many lists to check, and so many emotions to manage. TV ads, portraying perfection personified, subconsciously incite feelings that we must ante up our efforts to create the ideal holiday ambience. Ha!! Not any longer! 

As a youngster, I counted the hours, days and minutes until Christmas morning. I still remember thinking that it would NEVER come. Even during WWII, my mother proceeded with Christmas preparations in a seemingly seamless manner. I will never forget coming home from school and smelling freshly baked cookies meticulously packed into round tin containers, along with instructions, “Don’t Touch until Christmas!” I remember peeking in every closet looking for hidden presents. Mostly, I remember Christmas magic: decorating our tree, playing Christmas carols with my sister – she played the piano, I played the violin. I can still see our parents smiling, sitting in their easy chairs by the fireplace. Yes, Christmas was a time of joy, of celebration, of excitement and of marvel. 

When our  own children were little, I tried to duplicate my mother’s perfection. With four youngsters, I loved Christmas, but doubt I ever achieved the magnificence I envisioned. We had fun in spite of the chaos. Cookies were baked, house decorated, presents bought, and music resonated. By Christmas night I was thoroughly exhausted, but happy. The year our first son was born in October, we moved into our newly built house in Maine on December 21. While wrapping presents at midnight of Christmas Eve, I suddenly realized that four year-old Susie’s “most wanted Santa present” was left behind at our rental place. At 1 a.m., dear sleepy hubby braved the snow to retrieve the Susie Homemaker stove from the attic of the little house. He did it, Santa came, and at 6 a.m., after a few brief hours of sleep, we were awakened by two starry-eyed little girls eager to see what was under the tree.

The memories of Christmas Past linger. How lovely they are to relive. In our later years, life, however, changes dramatically. These days it is a challenge to accomplish all that SHOULD be done. Most friends say the same thing. In our minds, we can still envision the Martha Stewart ambience, but our bodies rebel. While many send checks to grandchildren and children, I still cling to choosing presents that might please them. It gets harder with a large family, and soon it will be time to turn the page and simplify even more. I still write our annual Christmas jingle (such fun to do!), mail out dozens of greeting cards. But instead of the fragrant live Frasier fir tree, we enjoy a table top artificial one that does the trick. Yesterday, I packed up Santas from our treasured collection to send to our two great grandbabies. Time to let go, move on and pass along a touch of history. Letting go inch by inch makes sense at this time of life. Time to concentrate on the essence of Christmas holidays, or as our minister would say, “the reason for the season.”

The other night we attended a lovely Christmas party, with both millennials and seniors invited. Fun to see the dynamics, as the young ones could stand endlessly without looking for a place sit. Not so for us seniors. Two older ladies whom I did not know asked me where we lived. I told them we moved to Cedarfield in 2017. One woman looked a bit shocked as she said, “but I don’t want to leave my house.” A common theme among many folks. The only comment I could offer was: “I understand what you are saying, but easier to do it now while you are in good shape.” Another lady asked if she could come see our cottage, and of course, she is welcome. But time will tell if she will call, or is able to let go enough to make the move. 

Obviously, challenges abound as we grow older. We have no idea what comes next, and it is our job to be prepared….to appreciate every good day on this earth, whether it is during the holidays or any time. Life is all about dealing with sudden change. And no one is impervious to it. Just two weeks ago a darling 36 year-old young woman in our church, whom we all adored, died of complication from a very rare, massive Grand Mal seizure. An epileptic for years, she had been successfully treated by medication since her teens. As  a young lawyer, blissfully married with two little boys ages six and two, this dear gal never regained consciousness. While her heart ticked steadily, her family clung to hopes for a miracle, which did not happen. 

As requested by this beautiful lady, her organs were harvested. In death she could give life. Imagine the enormous gratitude each recipient must feel….a priceless Christmas gift. At the memorial service, our gothic styled church was SRO. College, law school, and divinity school friends filled the pews, as did family and church friends. At the end of the magnificent service, when  the young widower and his somber six year-old son walked down the aisle holding hands, there was not a dry eye. Yet, sad as we were, we each left with an inordinate feeling of appreciation for a life snuffed out much too soon, but one that exemplified “extravagant love.” That term was used by all three assisting ministers. Who, of us, at any age, could ask to be remembered for more?

One of the most meaningful Christmas traditions for me is glorious music. At our friend’s memorial service, the church was filled with gorgeous renditions played by our consummate organist, as well as music sung by our choir and also by our young friend’s sister. A professional musician herself, her voice resonated bravely as she and a young man joined their voices in  a stirring rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the hymn “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” Music is our universal language of love. It transcends all ages, all races, creeds, religions. Music touches the core of our souls, and fills our hearts with joy. This year, make music with your ACTS of love.

So, as this holiday season embraces us, let’s each take time to concentrate not on preparations. Instead, let’s expend heartfelt energy to brighten the lives of others who may be struggling with a myriad of challenges. My mother always said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” And giving of ourselves is the best gift of all. Smile at strangers. Write a note on a card to a long-ago friend, letting him or her know that you still care, recalling happy times you shared, the laughter that person brought to your life. Count your blessings. Take time to call a friend who lives far away. Reach out with compassion to someone in pain or suffering grief. Say a prayer for a sick person you know. Thank those who help you on a regular basis….go the extra mile…spread the Joy of being alive, and do unto others. For it is in giving that we receive……and it is in sharing our love that we fill our own hearts. Give as if it were your last day, and you will find your life grows richer and fuller with each thoughtful act. 

God Bless, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays.

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Photo: Bigstock