It’s Christmas Day and I always think of the traditions I try to keep every year: eggnog, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation, lights in the River Oaks, A Christmas Carol at the Alley Theatre. I do my best to keep them and also mentally prepare for the traditions I will have with my family (whenever marriage imposes its will upon me). Of course family is the idea that we most cherish this time of year. Staying up late together. Waking up early together. Eating together. Opening gifts together. Laughing. Joking. Telling stories. Complaining. Arguing. All of it together.

Over the past decade I have ridden a rode of different emotions. I have tried to love Christmas. I have tried to just “get through” the holiday. I have loathed Christmas. And now, having started about three Christmases ago, I have decided to love the Christmas time as much as possible. And it was a conscious decision.

I remember there were two Christmases straight where I couldn’t wait for the 25th of December to quickly pass. I really disliked it because of the trauma my family had undergone. Ripped apart, truly, by the wickedness of mankind. My family persevered and, rather, survived a moment—a long moment—of crisis that has continued to echo and haunt us to this day.

So being apart during the “most wonderful time of the year” made it the “most difficult time of the year.” I wrote this poem a number of years ago, during the time of loathing the holiday, that expressed my feelings about the day and it serves as a reminder that happiness and joy or anger and sadness are often cognitive decisions.

What of cheer?

What of cheer?/ > When this time around comes/ > It’s ne’er for all/ > But for one and few/ > Great not small
What of cheer?/ > They toast to happy times/ > But few drink to this/ > Nor share they a glass/ > It’s a time to be remiss
What of cheer?/ > This time of the year/ > A spectacle of sorts/ > Of laughter and occasions/ > Some stand to retort  
What of cheer?/ > What of this cheer?/ > And many unhappy to see/ > The month of twelfth/ > Rather skip to January >
What of cheer?/ > I haven’t felt it in quite an age/ > My cup’s been shattered/ > Once dropped and stomped/ > My heart torn and tattered >
What of cheer?/ > I cannot answer/ > Except to say it is full/ > For some who relish the season/ > And for me it is my lull
What of cheer?/ > Do not ask again/ > It is Christmas Eve/ > And tomorrow being the Day/ > I would rather just have leave

The fact is I understand the pain of losing family and enduring the loss during this season. I understand sitting around a near empty house trying to pretend it’s a day like any other. I understand the heartache and I have gravitated toward it and embraced it. I, at one point in time, made it a staple of my thoughts to displace a “Merry Christmas” with a true Ebenezer “Humbug”. But I soon discovered and felt very deeply that my dislike, even hate, for Christmas did nothing to Christmas. It did nothing to retaliate anything. There may have been just cause to feel sadness, but there was no sound reason to continue with it. The only outcome it produced was a negative one within me.

So now, over the past several Christmases, I continue with “merry on my lips” to turn a Charles Dickens phrase. I now, with my family intact and complete, for the first time in a decade, understand so profoundly the idea of family for Christmas. It isn’t the gifts or the food, and yet it is. It is all of those things. But they indeed fall short to what they should be if family cannot be together. But in the case family cannot be together, perhaps walking into Christmas Day with the chosen mindset of joy is the best step toward making life much less miserable. I can attest that it does.

For all of you who have your family today, please hear me, and enjoy this time that only comes once a year. Do not possess the 25th of December as a day like any other, because it simply is not. Hold this day close and hold your family even closer because the future is so uncertain and family is truly fragile. Speak kindly. Love vigorously. And eat a lot of food.

Among the many traditions that come with Christmas, let family be the most sacred. And the celebration of Jesus’ birth, of course.

Merry Christmas!