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Emails to my Therapist

Easy Christmas To Us All!

easy Christmas

Curiously shaped tree I cut from our woodsy yard

Dear Nicholas, Tomorrow at about 3 p.m. is the one-year anniversary of the moment when a Duke aorta surgeon came out to the waiting room and told me that Bob was alive but he didn’t know if he was going to wake up. Bob did wake up. Though he tires a lot more easily than he did a year ago, he’s in good health. That may be why I don’t feel pressed this year to “get Christmas done.” I’m not worried about getting the right thing for everybody or about whether packages I mail will arrive in time. Christmas this year feels easy, not something I have to be sure to get right.

Last year, eleven days after this health crisis, Christmas slipped by with barely any notice at our house. We were happily home from the hospital, figuring out the details of recovery.

Those who devoutly celebrate the meaning of Christmas might have paid special attention to the day then and celebrated with gratitude. At the time, I was feeling grateful and tremendously relieved every day, no more on that day than on others.  What I did realize was that my inattention to the usual rituals of the holiday made no difference to anybody’s happiness. The world continued to turn. I delivered a few presents by some time in February, and all was well.

This year is when I notice a change in my attitude to the  complex annual project of Christmas. I’m not anxious about running out of time to get things done. I’m enjoying what preparations I’m making, and as a devoted non-cook, I’ve never done all that much anyway.

Mainly I just decorate and shop and wrap, and those activities are for me innately fun as long as they’re not done under pressure. I’ve never objected to the commercial hoop-la of Christmas. My parents were retailers and my Christmas nostalgia was never about stringing cranberries and lighting candles, it was about the excitement of working as a clerk with my family in the Christmas rush. I even wrote a piece long ago (1979) in The New York Times to that effect, “Commercialism, Yea,” suggesting nostalgia for one’s real experience rather than the snowy Currier and Ives version that so often seems pressed upon us.

I’ve also written rather grumpily on the subject, “How to Have a Stressful Christmas.”

Mainly Christmas seems to me a festival. While I do view myself as religious, I don’t find holidays to be a religious celebration for me. Instead, I feel a surge of faith at odd moments, the strongest I ever experienced was while driving (for safety’s sake, I did pull off the road.) These also have come at times in meditation and perhaps most of all while writing or reading. Like comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, my trustiest spiritual practice is underlining.

This year, however, in my new state of greater relaxation, I’m not sure what to expect. I only know that I’m glad Bob (and a number of others) are alive and well. That is surely celebration enough.

Wishing you an easy and joyous holiday, celebrated whenever you like. As my brother Franc advised me in the midst of one year’s holiday frenzy, “Don’t let the calendar kick you around.”



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  • Kenju
    December 13, 2017 at 5:43 pm Reply

    Amen!! I always decorate for Christmas, but since my heart surgery, I feel no pressure ( self-inflicted ) to get it done at all cost. I take it slowly, and appreciate it more.

    Merry Christmas to you and Bob and an extra dose of gratitude for our mutual problems being solved. Happy New Year!!

    • Peggy Payne
      December 13, 2017 at 5:47 pm Reply

      And you do some seriously good decorating too, Kenju. Merry Christmas and Good Health to y’all!

  • Robert Braxton
    December 13, 2017 at 8:55 pm Reply

    I leave Calendar to spouse of 50 years. I shall do my best – not to let Calendar kick me around 2017 Advent (and Christmas 12 days to Epiphany). Promise. It would be a violation, anyway, of my “rule of Zero.”

    • Peggy Payne
      December 13, 2017 at 9:00 pm Reply

      It does tend to be the female spouse, Bob, who most often deals with the holiday calendar.

  • Lee Grohse
    December 14, 2017 at 1:03 pm Reply

    I so agree with the commercialism part. For many centuries Europe made the days around Christmas an occasion for trade and shopping, with people traveling to markets, many set up around the great cathedrals, to display their wares and to feast and play and pray. Because my son lives in Europe we often make a trip to visit him just before Christmas and visit one or more of the markets. It’s like Christmas spirit on crack.–the cold weather, the ice skating rinks, the lights, the gluwein, the roasted chestnuts, the filled crepes. And the shopping. I make no apologies for wallowing in the predictable concentration of Christmas kitsch. I can never see too many rotating pyramids or knitted mittens. At home my husband and I like to go shopping on Christmas Eve! While we get any real gifts beforehand, Christmas Eve has always been stocking-stuffer day. I like the energy of the shoppers, and luckily for me it always reads as happy anticipation instead of tension. Good idea not to let the calendar kick you around! Since I’m a practicing Catholic I do go by the liturgical calendar as it applies to Advent, Christmas and Epiphany because I like the celebrations and symbols. And I like the idea of the exact dates being taken as friendly suggestions instead of deadlines. Hope you and Bob have a very happy Christmas!

    • Peggy Payne
      December 14, 2017 at 10:28 pm Reply

      Beautiful description of a blending of the secular and sacred aspects of the holiday, Lee. Don’t know how I missed those rotating pyramids, though. I love the idea of going shopping on purpose and for fun on Christmas Eve. The uproar can be a real upper!

    • December 15, 2017 at 7:51 pm Reply

      A pleasure to read your comment and remember you warmly, Lee. You clearly know how to enjoy this season. Happy Christmas to you and your family! bob

  • Christina Askounis
    December 15, 2017 at 12:28 am Reply

    Thanks for this, Peggy! I love Christmas, but I wish it were “easier.” Maybe I can find a way . . .

    • Peggy Payne
      December 15, 2017 at 1:47 am Reply

      You make it look easy, Christina. Thanks again!

  • December 15, 2017 at 7:57 pm Reply

    Fine seasonal post, Love. I couldn’t be more grateful for and to you, and how you’ve helped me thru that regrettable incidert a year ago and with the recovery and rehab that still continues. Thank You Forever, Love bob

    • Peggy Payne
      December 15, 2017 at 9:01 pm Reply

      Thanks to you forever, Bob!

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