Keeping Christmas

Image-1-2Keeping Christmas is a custom made of traditions lit by truth with a story that happened over two thousand years ago. Even so, it is not a past tense holiday. Christmas is. But this year, for me, it almost wasn’t.

I come from a family with a history of crowd-sourcing the miracle of cheer, year after year. We grew up celebrating Christmas in Williamsburg, in Vermont, in Bethlehem, in Germany, and even in a Coptic Church in Cairo. We have also celebrated Christmas in Intensive Care waiting rooms, hospital rooms, and hospice units. No matter where we were, Christmas happened because we came together and made room for it. We have celebrated Christmas around festive holiday tables where we have pulled up chairs for new in-laws and children and grandchildren next to the empty chairs of people we’ve lost. Joy and loss and acceptance are the wintry mix of the holiday.

Last year was our first Christmas without my sister and, as it turns out, our last with my mother. She thought it would be and wasn’t shy about saying so. We went all out. My mother knew how to bring the “merry” to Merry Christmas with her own brand of elfin sparkle. So it follows that this year a Merry Christmas would honor her and my other family members who have also died: my sister, my brother, and my father. Keepers and lovers of Christmas, they wouldn’t want it any other way. And yet…as we turned the calendar page to December, I stood motionless in a month of frenzy– adrift without a treasure map to take me through this silent night.

My students brought joy up the steps to our classroom every morning. Surrounded by ebullient eight and nine year olds and supportive teacher friends, my days grew stronger and stronger—but when the sun went down so did I.  I found myself in the darkest month of the year gasping for light.

Finally a bereavement counselor said something that jolted me. She said that if I skipped Christmas, it wasn’t coming around again for another year and that I would miss it. Miss Christmas? I was raised not to grieve publicly, and here I am publicly writing about grief. But this is not so much about grief as it is about letting the light break through. As much as we focus on a baby in a manger, it is easy to forget that Christmas is really about light breaking through as a baby’s cry rings through the darkest night and the angels sing. We can’t make Christmas happen, but we can make room for it to happen. We can clean the stable and clear away traditions that don’t make sense. We can stand on tiptoe, watching for new traditions that do. The manger must be prepared so that even common straw can gleam like gold as light breaks through.

I paraphrased an old hymn for my students that my husband’s Moravian mother liked to sing:

“December bids us shine, shine, shine

You in your corner and I in mine.”

We talked about the role that light played in all of our December traditions, and that in our corner classroom light shines through us. We created a celebration together that was respectful of all our traditions. I explained that traditions often have humble beginnings. People do something fun or meaningful and they say, “That was fun, let’s do that again.” As we shared traditions from our families, a child asked if I would read his family copy of The Night Before Christmas. I said I was happy to, but didn’t get very far. My eyes were stinging with tears. I explained that I thought the illustrations (done by his grandmother) must be too beautiful and that was why I was crying. A child said, “I don’t think this is about the illustrations, Mrs. Campbell.” Another child gently took the book out of my hands and read a page and passed it tothe next child. It made its way around the circle. Generous. Kind. Compassionate. Light breaks through and there is a new tradition. That was fun, let’s do it again.

School emptied for Winter Break. My husband and I decorated the tree with the ornaments that were collected by our mothers and tell their own story. We’ve spent time with family and friends. We’ve baked and cooked in preparation for the family Christmas that will take place at our house. We’ve spent time with our granddaughters. We picked up my son and his wife from the airport. I am tracking Christmas moments with the same tenacity with which a child might track Santa’s sleigh. This year Christmas is different, but light breaks through and I am not going to miss it. Christmas is for keeps.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified third grade teacher and loves her work. She especially enjoys teaching children how to be enthusiastic readers, writers, and problem solvers. Every year, she hopes to inspire her students to be committed citizens who know they can make a difference in the world around them. When she is not teaching, Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Keeping Christmas

  1. Christie Rasberry says:

    This blog post has touched my heart so very, very much. I found myself with tears. I am able to smile for so many others, yet my heart is very heavy!!!! Your post has helped me so much today. It surely has reminded me to focus on the light of Christ. Truly, Jesus is the reason for the season. Blessings to you and your family. Have a Merry Christmas!!!

  2. icarney says:

    Dear Annie, I opened my computer this Christmas Eve to write to you. To let you know that I have been thinking almost daily about your Christmas…yet another of “the first without”s. And there was your honest and perfect.

    I write to share the tradition that I now keep – not every year, but in the years where loss is the sorrow string in all of the Christmas songs – of reading Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. I read it for the language and the lovely images, but also for catharsis. It is my early gift to myself of a good cry to clear the way for the possibility of joy and celebration. I think the writing that you share today must have been a similar gift to self.

    But what compelled me to open the computer when I did was having just read poems in a book that I only learned about this week. It is a book of poetry by the Irish poet David Whyte. It is a volume inspired by his mother’s death.

    Here is the poem I wanted to share


    She wrote me a letter after her death and I remember a kind of happy light falling on the envelope as I sat by the rose tree on her old bench at the back door, so surprised by its arrival wondering what she would say, looking up before I could open it and laughing to myself in silent expectation.

    *Dear son,it is time* *for me to leave you.* *I am afraid that the words* *you are used to hearing* *are no longer mine to give,* *they are gone and mingled* *back in the world* *where it is no longer* *in my power* *to be their first* *original author* *nor their last* *loving bearer.* *You can hear * *motherly* *words of affection now* *only from your own mouth* *and only* *when you speak them* *to those* *who stand* *motherless* *before you.*

    *As for me I must forsake* *adulthood* *and be bound gladly* *to a new childhood.* *You must understand* *this apprenticeship* *demands of me* *an elemental innocence* *for everything* *I ever held in my hands.*

    *I know your generous soul* *is well able to let me go* *you will in the end* *be happy to know* *my God was true* *and I find myself* *after loving you all so long,* *in the wide,* *infinite mercy* *of being mothered myself.*

    *P.S. All your intuitions were true* * – David Whyte* * Everything is Waiting for You, 2017*

    Wishing you and Ben and your family a Christmas whose sweetness comes, at least in part, from the sure knowledge that our time together – Christmastide and otherwise – is precious and vulnerable.

    Thank you for your courage and your words, Anne. Warmly, Irene

    On Sun, Dec 24, 2017 at 10:17 AM, Write Now In Room 204… wrote:

    > Annie Campbell posted: “Keeping Christmas is a custom made of traditions > lit by truth with a story that happened over two thousand years ago. Even > so, it is not a past tense holiday. Christmas is. But this year, for me, it > almost wasn’t. I come from a family with a history of c” >

  3. Merry Christmas. May you continue to finds it’s joy even in life’s saddest times.

  4. Lorna K Blake says:

    So, so beautiful and honest and true. My eyes and heart are full of your words and spirit. Merry Christmas, darling Annie.

  5. Emma says:

    Oh Annie, this is so profound . However, my Christmas was do different. I am trying so hard to let the light shine through. I miss the traditions John and I crafted for 37 years. I miss the ones that have gone on, my niece, my brother…but I press on. Thank you for sharing. Love you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s