Serendipity | Smiles and tears during the holidays



Sentimentality isn’t necessarily a component of holiday plans. Perhaps my current bout with heightened emotions has something to do with my age. Since turning 70 some seven months ago, I’ve chalked up nearly every unusual response as an age related issue so why not include holiday angst. Even before Christmas carols made their early debut on the radio, I was recalling past celebrations and tearfully remembering loved ones who won’t be home for Christmas ever again. Some sadness is from deaths 20 years ago and more that still lingers.

Perhaps it’s our expectations that holidays will be perfectly delightful that obstruct our sense of reality. I miss not believing in the magic of Santa, but even he has limitations on the wishes he can make come true. In the meantime, my eyes still water when I hear John Lennon sing “Happy Christmas” (War Is Over), or almost any rendition of “O Holy Night,” and the list goes on.

December celebrations include sensory overload. Sometimes something as simple as a photo of an awkward looking Christmas tree, that we once thought was beautiful, can bring long ago memories and details to mind. At a fall garage sale, I found a favorite fragrance, L’air Du Temps, that was popular some 50 years ago. I was delighted, and one quick spray smelled as lovely as I remembered. Cosmetic counters at Bergner’s and Block & Kuhl, later Carson Pirie Scott, featured abundant choices of the latest scents for sampling. Admiring holiday window displays was also part of downtown or Sheridan Village shopping charm. Online ordering doesn’t offer such perks. Our pre-cursor for that was ordering from catalogs. It was exciting when Christmas catalogs arrived and hours were spent looking at merchandise, wishing and hoping.

When I was growing up, just thinking about the holiday season was exciting to me. It never competed with Halloween or Thanksgiving, and I’m uncertain if Black Friday existed. No shopping started on Thanksgiving Day or before. But just because certain traditions changed, it doesn’t mean we’re obligated to participate in new ones. When my children were young, I liked driving to the mall in the 6 a.m. morning darkness on the morning after Thanksgiving to take advantage of sales. Even more enjoyable was saving money by using coupons, and the thrill of securing highly requested items. People who didn’t do Christmas shopping seemed to me like they were missing something special. Now I’m one of those people, but I don’t feel like anything is missing. Our family decided five years ago to forego gift giving, splurging instead on a summer family vacation for 15. We’ve never wavered in our decision, and for those who dislike shopping, I’d recommend this terrific alternative.

This year I’m giving in to my nostalgia and spending extra time recalling details of holidays long ago. Pandora has great music, and I can fragrance the house with scented candles to recreate the scent of how I remember Christmas trees smelling long ago. I’ll enjoy eggnog in a fancy glass and maybe thumbprint cookies from Trefzger’s Bakery, while looking at photos from my childhood and my children’s childhood.

And somewhere in there, I’ll mix smiles with tears, remembering loved ones and special occasions, and I’ll savor the beauty and promise of the season.

Sandra Dempsey Post

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