December 17, 2021 | LIFE | By Kristen Richards | Illustration by Sydney Morris

Each year, Christmas starts a little bit later. There is a little bit less snow, sometimes barely more than an inch, melted by noon. Christmas music in stores starts in November, ends in January, and we either think it is too early or too late.

The songs played are too old or too new, too happy, too sad, too generic, too annoying, too problematic, too perfect. We cannot settle down enough to appreciate it all. Christmas is the shooting star no one looked up fast enough to see.  

For me, Christmas has never been a particularly religious holiday. Instead, it has been a holiday of connection, the sharing of love and community. We went to church, but for my brother and I, it was more for the free candy canes than anything else. And the candles on the tree, the red bouquets of flowers, the feeling that just for a single moment, everything is okay. 

The older I get, the more I feel as though Christmas is the time when I realize childhood leaving me the most. It burns in me nostalgia, a desperate wish to return to the simplicity — when the flames were kept in the fireplace, when all Christmas cookies were shaped by cookie cutters.

How easy life was when there were cookie cutters to guide the way. Eventually the cookie cutters rust, get lost in the basement, get thrown out in July. Eventually the cookie cutters aren’t anything but restrictions. 

There is a privilege in this simplicity, however. I am luckier than many others to have happy Christmas memories to glance back on. It is a blessing to not only recognize, but to have experienced the simplicity of Christmas as a child.

The holidays may be a time of giving, but they are also a time of loss. While I have not experienced this loss, or anything to the magnitude that can be considered a loss, there still lacks a place, a middle ground, between loving the holidays and getting through the holidays.

There is so much pressure to be happy that it can be suffocating, and it turn the happiness upside down. I think the holidays ignite something different in every person, every family, blood or no blood. I feel so grateful to have connected my experience during Christmas time with strong relationships and community. 

Christmas sparks the idea of tradition in me. Tradition has been an integral part of how my family celebrates holidays, and there is a safety and joy in this. Knowing what to expect each holiday season has always made me more appreciative. Traditions changing with age were not easy. Nothing immediately shifted, but as the years went by, things grew more and more different. Fighting this change left me disappointed, lonely. Arbitrary rules of where you should be, who you should be with, and what you should do takes away the joy of all these things. 

 Perhaps the problem of our societal view on Christmas is that has to be celebrated or not celebrated in a specific and permanent way. I think that holidays are defined not by places, things, or events, but by feeling. The feeling of being with people you love, the feeling of being in a safe and comforting place, the feeling of celebration. Maybe this is a subtle change, but it is a change in mindset, nonetheless. 

When I think back on Christmas as a simple time, I am also thinking of my childhood self, whose life was not filled with all these difficult and beautiful complications. We can each redefine what the holidays mean to us based on where we are in life, what we want and need, and who we are becoming. 

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