I didn’t feel like celebrating Advent and Christmas this year. Grief reappeared as the holidays approached. The usual festive celebrations made me feel tired or irritable as I remembered the events a year ago, leading up to my father’s death in early January. I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate either the “secular Christmas” or the “sacred Christmas”.
We decided this year to keep the decorations simple so we could focus on spending time with the family. We put a string of lights in the window for a bit of hygge cheer in the December darkness. We chose a few favorite nativities from our collection to place on the mantle as a reminder of our Christian traditions. We replaced the tropical scene hanging above our fireplace with a beautiful winter scene from Yosemite, since there was no snow predicted for the holidays. We looked forward to our boys returning home for the holidays.
Minutes after hanging that picture above the mantel, it came crashing down. Three of the nativities and a beautiful stained glass candle globe were swept off the mantel. They shattered on the wood-stove below, leaving shards of stained glass, broken ceramic pieces and a cracked gourd retablo. The entire nativity set of thorn carvings from Nigeria were completely beheaded as we watched the little heads roll across the floor. My first reaction was tears, then laughter, then a slow realization that nothing would ever be quite the same again, since my father’s death.
Something began to shift inside of me. I realized this incident symbolized a new beginning. A time of letting go of the past, celebrating in the present moment and starting some new traditions in the future.
It was time to let go of the past. The stained glass candle globe and a few nativities were gone. So was my father. I didn’t have to attend every Christmas event like I usually did.
It was time to be present in the moment. We could fix the picture with a secure hanger. We could choose other nativities to be our new favorites. The thorn carving figures could still be salvaged. We could celebrate the lasting legacy my father and other ancestors passed on to our family. My father’s memory and presence was still very much alive in my heart.
It was time to start new traditions. The picture was securely placed back on the wall. We found all the missing heads and glued them back on the little carved bodies. Mary was missing her hair covering, but that was OK. It would serve as a reminder that sometimes we are stripped of the comfortable things in life, like our rituals. Sometimes we are vulnerable and feel uncovered. Sometimes we just have to show up, be present in the moment and keep moving forward.
I added an angel statue beside the nativities as a sign of hope for the future. I breathed a sigh and felt ready to face the rest of the holidays. As I reflected on this incident over the next several days, new insights were gleaned.
Christmas morning I woke to a small lit Christmas tree in the living room. My husband decided that rituals were still important when living with grief. He secretly put up the tree and ornaments as a surprise. He intentionally chose one ornament from every stage of our lives to represent the many Christmas celebrations we had as a family. It was fun seeing all those years represented on the tree. It made me appreciate the gift of celebrating traditions in slightly new ways. We enjoyed a new tradition of tacos for Christmas lunch, made by our young adult sons. Something old, something new, nativities salvaged, traditions reviewed. It was a good day.
A little angel on our tree gives me a sense of Light in the darkness, Joy in the sorrow, Peace in the midst of conflict and Hope for the future. Blessings to each one of you as you navigate the past, present and future.