(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 19, 2008. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to questions or comments.)
Christmas is everywhere. The malls pump a constant flow of seasonal music beginning in the first week of November, or sooner. Radio stations play never-ending jingle songs. Television channels run 50-year-old Christmas specials that we've all seen a million times...there is no escaping it.
My Dad loved Christmas. He looked forward to it every year. Dad even looked like Santa. He had a huge belly and a long white beard hanging midway down his chest. Children would stop him on the street, or in the mall, and ask "are you Santa?"
Two weeks before the big day Dad and I would go and cut our very own tree. We trudged through snow, sometimes knee deep. We'd spend hours roaming the tree farm, searching for that perfect specimen. Dad carried the saw, until I was old enough to have that honour. We'd settle on our tree and ceremoniously cut it down. Dad would drag it back to the truck and off we'd go. Great things were in store for that tree.
It seems everybody asks the same question. "Do you have your shopping done?" You lie, say "oh yea, all done", force a smile, try to change the subject in the hopes they don't press for more information.
My Father was one for traditions, most of which he started himself. Since Christmas, as a rule, was for family, Dad decided he needed to begin a new traditiong for friends. Thus began the "Christmas Tree Decorating Party". Mom and Dad, mostly Dad, would invite a few couples over. We'd get all of the decorations gathered. Grandpa had made a cast iron tree stand and that thing weighed a ton, I know this for a fact since I dropped it on my foot many a time as a child, thinking I could manage it. It was solid and held water to keep the tree alive. It was my job daily to crawl under and give the tree a drink.
Beautiful, coloured lights adorn every inch of every home in the village it seems. You can't drive to the store without being reminded of the time of year. Trees, shrubs, porches are just dripping with colour.
The funny thing about trees is they look smaller when growing in a field. Most years our tree topped 8 feet. The old house I grew up in had 12-foot ceilings. There was a hole in the ceiling of the living room that used to have a stove pipe years before oil heating was installed. Many a time the top of the tree went up through that hole. My parent's friends would all arrive. Mom spent days cooking another of my Dad's new-found traditions. Seafood at Christmas. No stuffed turkey for us, he went to the local fish market and ordered a pound or two of every conceivable type of seafood. Shrimp, lobster, scallops, oysters, smoked salmon. The house smelled wonderful!!
Two days before Christmas, 1998, my Dad went into the hospital for surgery on a brain tumor. Like the foolishly over-optimistic gal that I am I told him we wouldn't have Christmas until he got home. He never did come home and I haven't been able to celebrate Christmas since.
Before you jump the gun, I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not feeling sorry for myself either. There are millions of folks throughout the world in the same boat. Every year we hear on the news of tragedy striking. I sympathize with people who find the holidays difficult yet have to put on a facade for their children.
This article is for the millions of folks who have lost a loved one in this most joyous of seasons: you are not alone. There is no need to feel guilty or ashamed. You see, most people who've lost a loved one, or suffered a tragedy, don't wish to discuss it. I never do, unless pushed. I don't want to put a damper on your celebration, and it does, instantly. So we quietly avoid.
This is also a reminder to everyone else. Before you judge the owners of that house down the street who never decorate, bear in mind that they may be silently suffering a personal loss. When you notice a co-worker who avoids every holiday conversation and vanishes when it comes time for the office Christmas party, stop and consider there may be a good reason why.
This holiday season, take a moment and look around you. Step away from the festvities for a bit and reach out to that person with the forced smile, or the couple with no decorations. This is the season for sharing, after all.
This article written in memory of my Dad, George Wilson Stark. August, 1939 - March, 1999.
Thanks also to Terry, for the editorial advice.