04 December, 2010

Reclaiming Christmas

Christmas is a time full of memories of loss for me.  It begins in November, pauses today on 4 December to remember my Dad who would have been 82 today, and then builds up steam as I remember the diagnoses of my two ectopics in December and January.  Christmas carols bring back memories.  Old repeats of corny TV programmes (Mr Bean's Christmas for example) bring back painful memories, and the brilliant red blooms on the pohutakawa trees (often called New Zealand's Christmas trees) never fail to transport me back to the Women's Hospital at this time of year.

But I've always loved Christmas.  Over the years I've heard a lot of women - usually those who are worried about their fertility or are going through loss - say that "Christmas is for children."  They're grieving the loss of Christmas as well as the loss of their children, their future.  And I understand that.  I had collected cute knitted Christmas stockings from markets when I lived overseas.  I ended up with multiple stockings, imagining a house full of our children and their cousins at Christmas. And the year my last IVF failed, and I knew I would never have children, I looked at those stockings and cried.  I've since given one to all my nieces and nephews.  I hope their parents use them.  I hope they make them happy.

But understanding the grief that we won't ever celebrate Christmas with our own children, doesn't mean that Christmas has to be lost to us.  If it was important to you before children, it can be important to you afterwards.  It might not be what you always wanted, but let's face it, what in life is exactly as we had envisaged it, or just how we always wanted?  And so I stamp my feet a little, and say "Christmas is NOT just for children.  It's for all of us, to make our own." 

And so I do try to make Christmas my own.  If family are visiting my city, then I insist on hosting Christmas dinner, both to save my mother-in-law from the effort (she hates cooking), and also to claim it for myself.  I keep it simple, but have traditions that are mine.  And to be honest, one of the traditions I like is that I keep it simple, and sophisticated.  Sure, kids are catered for, and have a good time.  But this is not just about them.  It's about all of us, family getting together, or simply my husband and I, celebrating our love.

My own losses have made me much more aware of how difficult Christmas is for so many people.  We may think that others are happy, but there are people without families, others who may be going through things we don't know about, hiding behind seemingly happy family photographs, or busy Christmases, as their hearts are breaking, as they struggle with illness, or financial difficulties.  Our culture's emphasis on being happy at Christmas is cruel to a great many people, and they all need our help and support, so much more than any child needs a new playstation (or whatever the latest "must-have" present is).

My friend is about to go through her second Christmas separated from her husband.  Last year she was hopeful they could reconcile.  This year she knows they won't.  It's difficult for her, her parents, her children.  They're all grieving.  But she's making it her own, and I applaud that.

I guess I'm saying we should reclaim Christmas.  Get our own happy memories.  We never forget, of course we don't.  But it doesn't mean that we can't welcome Christmas or other holiday traditions with peace and joy.  And that is what I wish everyone.  Joy and peace and love.


  1. We've been struggling with this for a couple of years now. Until 2 years ago, i still really thought that we'd have children. And i still find some of the family (husband's family) gatherings difficult as those children are a year or two older than ours would be.

    And you are right about us all having things that are difficult. Spoke to my sis (mother of 6) yesterday, & when i mentioned that we struggle with Mother's/Father's Day, she said that since she & her husband separated/divorced, her children have a hard time on Father's Day. So, we all have our own difficulties, and there is no point (as some seem to do) in saying, "Buy MY pain is worse than YOURS.

    I'm not finding it easy to make the transition to "a family of two," but we do have our own rituals for the holidays and thru the year we make a ritual of other anniversaries. For me, simply having children in our lives makes a difference. We've begun an unofficial mentoring of a family with 3 children. Don't really know how that will turn out, ultimately. We will see.

    But i do have hope for the future! :)

  2. You are a wonderful inspiration! It's wonder that you have made Christmas your own and celebrate it on your own terms and not on everyone else's. I need to learn to do that more...with Christmas and in other areas of my life.



  3. This is a gorgeous and important post. Thank you so much.

  4. Oh, Mali, I love this. It's so victorious, and I love the idea of reclaiming that which brought us joy at one time.

    I wish you a merry holiday season.

  5. "Christmas is NOT just for children." Amen to that!!

  6. I hear you loud and clear! No, it's NOT just for children! It's for EVERYONE, regardless of their status, wherever in the world they are, whatever they are doing with their lives. I've been verbally pummelling that point home for many years in my own way now.

    Thinking of you during the month of shared ectopic losses.