No matter how broke I’ve been, I’ve always had a Yule tree. I’ve bought live ones, dead ones, and fake neon green ones from the good Goodwill in Midwest City.
I think it’s because my mom was like that. We could be living on peanut butter and crackers and we’d still have a gorgeous tree. Decked out in thrifted ornaments or homemade paper garland. She made every holiday feel so very special. I like to say, she can make dust sparkle.
My mom likes to tell the story of the Ponytail Holder Christmas. I was three and it was a year that she was so broke all she could afford to get me was some pretty ponytail holders. She wrapped each little bundle carefully, and she says when I opened them, I said, “Oh my! Pretty ponytail holders! Just what I have been wanting!” She still cries when she tells the story.
Since I’ve been a parent, I have tried to make holidays feel that special. I tried so hard that in my first 8 years of being a parent, I did not go one Christmas Eve without crying. Partly because I was married to a narcissist who who hated holidays and partly because I had unrealistic expectations of the perfect way things should go. Even in my new relationship, I’ve spent holidays crying. Nothing wrong with crying, but sprawled on my mom’s bathroom floor at the Solstice party isn’t a great look.
A couple years ago, for the first time, I had the money to make a really special Christmas for my kids. There were Xboxes and tablets and every little thing I thought would make them light up on Christmas morning. Then a week after Christmas, our house was burglarized. Every thing that required electricity was gone.
I felt so defeated.
Since then, I’ve been working on letting go of my vision of the perfect celebration. I’ve been transitioning from the commercial idea of Christmas/Santa to a more meaningful version of Winter Solstice and Yule. Creating traditions that have much less to do with stuff and more to do with appreciation and reflection.
This year, I did not cry on Christmas. In fact, I did not even put up a tree. And you know what?
My festive world kept spinning.
I did not stress out about presents. Some folks in my family got some and some didn’t. I didn't go to any holiday parties. The kids got three presents each and were more than happy.
On Solstice, we made You Boxes. Personalized boxes to stick notes of gratitude and favorite memories. We had Solstice soup and watched Broadway musicals.This year, my partner and I actually sat down and wrote out what we wanted our family traditions to be like. We made plans for a handmade Solstice next year and what we wanted to do from Thanksgiving to Sun King Day (aka Christmas). That way, we won’t have to stress + we know it will be meaningful.
It will be sloppy and honest and memorable. The way it should be.