by Lois Cooper
The holidays are one of my favorite times of year.
It’s the illusion of “Peace on Earth and good will towards men” that is captivating. When I was growing up it was a time of preparation. The holidays meant working together as a family to clean the entire house, including baseboards and shellacking the hardwood floors. Hanging fresh curtains and bringing out the fancy lace brocade-like table cloths were the finishing touches.
Nuts and fruits adorned the tables and it was a time of merriment. We didn’t have a lot and often shared our gifts, like the life-size doll my younger sister and I shared and named “Big Baby.” It was an oversized white doll that we thought odd but used her to look after our imaginary household and all the things that belonged to it. When I think back, we did not even have the option of selecting a doll of color.
The holidays were family time, cultivating traditions, and having hope in things unseen. We didn’t feel like we were lacking anything because our parents filled in the blanks. We were loved, encouraged and protected. And then stuff happened…
When Dad died three days after Christmas in 1968, it changed everything for our family. Mom was strong and never wavered from her commitment to her eight children, but the family was devastated. We were forced to figure things out by ourselves. Dad was a survivor and a provider. He served in a segregated army in WWII and was wounded in the invasion of Normandy while crossing a bridge when a land mine exploded. He was strong and had experienced many things, and used to tell us stories about the Army as we gathered around, giving our undivided attention.
“I was in Sicily, I was in France, I was in North Africa,” he would begin his narration.
He loved us, encouraged us, and made great sacrifices for us. We didn’t always understand him but we respected him for the sacrifices and the example he showed us.
Because of this, I’ve known from an early age that the holiday represents different things to different people. Even though my Dad died during the Christmas holidays and my sister’s only daughter died of sickle cell complications on December 15, 2011 – on my Mom’s birthday – we still as a family try to stay encouraged. The hurt is traumatizing, but we know that we have to go on and stay strong for each other. It’s not about the gifts or the shopping or the decorations. It’s really about reconnecting to a feeling of family and being together in spirit no matter what. The advertising executives and marketing machines encourage us to buy, buy, buy… but what I know for sure is that spirit of the holiday lives in the hearts and souls of the people.
When my children were growing up they would always ask, “Mom, what do you want for Christmas?” and I would say “Peace on Earth.”
I said that for several reasons: to take the stress off the holidays for them, because just being a family was everything to me, and because I wanted to take the stigma off our limited resources. I was proud of my response because holiday after holiday they posed the same question and I gave the same answer. I always made sure there were gifts, toys and a lot of love, which is the real ingredient for the season.
My daughters and I don’t do gifts any more. We just try to spend time together, have fun, put up a few decorations, visit my mother and siblings and reminisce. They will both be traveling during this season and I will be figuring out and redefining this holiday season for me.
This is still my favorite time of the year. A time for hope and good cheer. Wishing you the best in the coming year.