The Most Wonderful Time of The Year
Photographed by Andre Buckley of Marc Woodworth
By Anna Konen
The holidays; a time most people look forward to. From trimming the tree, lighting a menorah, and honoring the 7 principles of Kwanzaa, the winter holidays are a time that many people remember with fondness, and look forward to all year long. However, the same holidays that these people cannot seem to get enough of bring dread and anxiety to others. With the horrendous combination of seasonal depression coupled with memories of lost loved ones, grief during the holidays is at an all-time high.
When I was six years old, I remember waiting up for Santa all night long, or my version of all night long, which usually only lasted until about 10:00pm. I was excited for presents of course, but more than anything I was excited to wake up at 6am, bother my older sisters and twin brother to join me and wait at the top of the stairs until our parents delivered us the good news; Santa had come. It was never about the presents. More about the presence. The presence of my loved ones in one room for just one day. Where my older cousins would make me watch inappropriate movies like Dodgeball and my six-year-old self would watch and laugh, pretending to understand the jokes like them. We would play Left, Right, Center and bet M&Ms like they were money.
Now, I am 21 and Christmas for me is nowhere near as special. Without my grandmother’s homemade corn and noodles and no father’s shoulders to sit on as I place the angel on the tree, Christmas has not been the most wonderful time of the year for me in far too many years. A day I used to mark off on my chocolate-filled advent calendar yearning for each 24-hour period to pass sooner is now one that I still anticipate, but not for the reasons I used to.
Instead, I find myself trying to fill the hole that my family members have left. I see the way that my mother’s smile sometimes fails to reach her sparkling eyes as it usually does. I watch as she runs around the kitchen making sure that everything is picture perfect as it was when I was that hope filled six-year-old little girl. She selflessly makes sure the holiday is perfect for everyone else before doing so for herself. I find myself watching my sisters play with their kids as my parents used to with me, making sure the Christmas magic is as present as always, trying not to acknowledge how different the holiday is for them too.
Now, I watch as each of my family members tries to push the real pain down, bury it so no one knows the hurt that is happening. Each of us, acting selflessly, to make sure the others do not notice.
I know that my family is not alone in these feelings, for we are not the only ones who suffer through amplified grief this holiday season. The truth is most people do experience grief, and while they may be able to ignore it the other 364 days of the year, it is almost impossible to forget during the “happiest time” of the year.
I am not here to tell you how to fill the void as you look around your dinner table and notice the people missing. The hard truth is, those seats will remain empty, until one day soon they are filled with the smiling faces of new fiancés and grandchildren. Although right now the only thing you may be able to see are the people missing, as the years pass by, those missing pieces will quickly be outshined by the new memories you have made. As traditions evolve, so do the people that make them.
Truth be told, the holidays change for everyone, whether they want to admit it or not. The magic does not shine nearly as brightly as it used to when we were kids tracking to find out when Santa might arrive at our house. While trimming the tree, lighting the menorah, and honoring the 7 principles of Kwanzaa, may be different for your family this year, it is important to remember that different does not always mean bad.
For my family, this difference has been beautiful. We have learned to help one another without being asked, and to create our own new and improved traditions. The point is not to focus only on the bad, but rather start anew. Turning what was once ugly into a metamorphosis of beauty. Although the magic of Christmas may not be the same as it once was for me, the beauty of growing up is being able to pass that uncapped love onto the new people in your life. I have never seen someone happier to get something as simple as a book than my niece and nephews. Sometimes, we must remember that in our darkest moments, it is simple things like the joy of being with those that you have, that can radiate the light you did not know you were missing.