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When the holidays hurt

The Christmas season is here, and it is hard to escape from its vastness. This season seems to stretch and punctuate many areas of life. The music has been wafting notes of sleigh and Christ born through stores and has slowly started trickly its way into my home. I wish my feelings about Christmas were less complex, but the holidays hurt. I feel a jaded cocktail of sadness and twisted joy, wound together like a striped candy cane. Ribbons of red and white intertwine tightly around each other, seemingly inseparable and sinewed together.

The old was a twistedly painful and abusive childhood, pockmarked with sentiments of happiness, ironically mostly at Christmas time. I loved to decorate the tree with my sister. Remembering ornaments from years past and debating over who got to put the angel on top of the tree that year. My family would attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service. That night always felt like a game of pretend to me, a game that I did not want to end. My sister and I donned Christmas dresses. Being an imaginative child, I liked to pretend I was Cinderella going to the ball.

Once our family arrived at church, we would quietly file into the dimly lit chapel and pass out paper enveloped candles. Eventually, we would begin the process of lighting the candles. Someone from the aisle would light the first candle, and we would carefully keep passing on the light from candle to candle until every candle was lit and the room was full of flickering candle glow. I remember my little hands gripping that candle so tightly, the task in front of me feeling very grown up and important. With wide eyes, I watched beads of wax drip down onto the thin paper cup that protected my fingers.

For a night, all was well, and our family was one of the happy ones. We sang songs of Christ’s birth, and my sister and I exchanged knowing smiles of the joy we felt. We proudly held our candles, not wanting them to burn out. Eventually, it was time to blow out our candles, and with them, a little bit of our joy. We never stayed at church very long. You see, the veneer of a bad family pretending to be a “good family” has an expiration date, and it’s very short.

We were soon ushered home and after dinner, we opened our presents. My little sister and I took turns carefully taking the paper off each gift. As the paper ripped, our happiness caught a little. Each tear was like a claw at the “good family” veneer. Just like Cinderella, this night would soon all be over, and I would no longer be a princess, but a dirty and unkempt girl.

My present life is a stark contrast from the old. I now have a family where I’m safe and loved by my husband and children. I have the kind of love I always dreamt that other little girls had. The new is redemption and a sacred love between me and a God who can’t be defined or kept in a storage box all year long, only to be brought out for a night. Here, I know his love for me is unending. God is love, and I am marked by His brilliant light.

I’m learning through a beautiful meld of counseling, Jesus’ love, my incredible family and the church around me to somehow hold the old and the new. In this season, all those memories that I’ve tried to stuff away into ugly green totes are resurfaced, and I’m forced to dust them off, turning them over and over in my hands. Yet, on the other hand, I tightly grip my eternal Father’s strong hand, or rather, he holds mine. This year is my first Christmas where I am allowing myself to feel the sadness in the middle of the Christmas madness. Sad for what was and what was not. Oddly enough, it is allowing me to feel more joy and experience more healing.

If the holidays hurt for you too, then I want you to hear this: it’s not your fault. Take a deep breath, because you are not alone.

——

Mal Faith is a member of Cornerstone Church in Marshalltown.

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