4 Christmases: Remembering What Matters
Have you seen the movie, Four Christmases, starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn? The movie tells the story of a couple experiencing four different Christmas celebrations on one day, and through there experience, they discover what truly matters, at Christmas and in life. This blog post is not exactly like that movie, but I do look back on four very different and very special Christmases, and what they have taught me about this special holiday.
Last year, 2018, I spent Christmas in sunny Mexico with my family of eight (yes, I am the oldest daughter in a family of 6 daughters!). We surfed, opened little souvenirs as gifts, ate tacos, and laid in the sunshine. It was the kind of Christmas I never, ever expected to experience. To put this trip in perspective, every Christmas for as long as I can remember has started at an ungodly hour of the morning in my home on the West Coast of Canada with shouts of joy, first from me and my next two sisters, and eventually from my three youngest sisters. My parents always did up Christmas to the max. One year there were handmade beds for our beloved dolls sitting under the tree, another there were snowboard boots, and there was always so much anticipation as each person in our family handed out the gifts for the rest of the family, and enjoyed the oohs and aahs.
For me, Christmas has always meant baking cookies and delivering them to neighbours on Christmas Eve, eating appetizers for Christmas Eve dinner, brunch with one side of the family, and dinner with the other. It meant themed gift ideas, chopping down a tree, cozy fires, and a few family members feeling VERY strongly that we should continue all of our traditions no matter what. So to think that last years Christmas was spent laying on a warm beach drinking out of a coconut is honestly crazy to me.
The tropical Christmas in 2018 was not exactly our original plan, I was approached with the idea all the way back in early 2017. As the planner of my family, I was asked to look into flights for a Mexico Christmas for that year. I was researching flights and strategizing a budget in Summer 2017 when we got the news that my 10 year old sister had leukaemia. Needless to say, the idea that we would spend Christmas 2017 in sunny Mexico was no longer an option.
Which brings me to Christmas number two in my story, Christmas 2017: The Christmas in the hospital. My sister had been diagnosed in July 2017 and was immediately moved to the BC Children’s Hospital. My parents and the two youngest sisters moved into the Ronald MacDonald House (RMH) right away, where they lived on-and-off for 10 months. There were tests and chemo scheduled all through the holiday season so we decided to do something that we all had never thought would happen, we would have Christmas at the BC Children’s Hospital.
Christmas in RMH was VERY different. We all slept in one room, to start with. And there were a lot of emotions, from our family, and from other families, going through some really tough moments. There was a lot more crying than other Christmases. There were a lot more doctor visits than other Christmases! The food was different, the people were different, and yet, it is one of my very best Christmases.
Yes. Even through so many tough moments over that week, there was so much love and true gratitude and kindness. Like seeing the little ones opening their gifts (many of these were donated – and for that we are so grateful) or gathering around the shared kitchen each morning where my dad had brought a big, fancy coffeemaker to bring some joy to those who needed that extra nudge to get through the day. My sister got such a big grin on her face when my dad taught her how to make lattes and mochas and she went around taking orders from everyone each morning. I am honestly getting teary just thinking about how much darn joy that coffee maker brought to RMH that Christmas. It really is the littlest things that bring the most happiness.
The Christmas in 2016, before my sister got sick is honestly a blur to me, so Christmas number three is a short story, it was one of our classic Christmases (with the gifts, tree, brunch, dinner, cookies) and it sits in my memories as a fond puddle of all my childhood Christmases. It represents the Christmases as I will always remember them, warm, happy, chaotic, and even stressful. Which leads me to the last of the four Christmases, Christmas 2019. This year. This year we are not in a hospital, we are not on a beach, but we are also no longer the blur of classic childhood Christmases from before. This year, a few of us kids are older, we have significant others and work schedules and not everyone will bake cookies on the same day. We are in a new stage of life, all of us, as we grow and change each year. We will never experience Christmas the way we did before the hospital, and before the beach. We are older, wiser, and more grateful for all this life offers us, for however long.
I know that for me, Christmas is a time to reflect on the year, to appreciate what I have and take a moment to be with those I love. But this year, I see Christmas a little differently. As I attend Christmas dinner I will be thinking about those who are eating without those they love. As I buy my mom a gift, I will remember the year we chose to fly to a warmer place instead of purchasing gifts, and how special that was. Christmas is stressful and exhausting and sometimes a big family dinner is not exactly our idea of time off. But Christmas is also a time to look around you at the blessings in your life and thank God, the Universe, whatever you would like, that we get to go through this dark season together, in whatever kind of Christmas this year has blessed you with.