2022 has been a year of many changes for me. One of the biggest has more of a direct effect on my boyfriend. It was a change that I never expected to happen and one that was deeply rooted to my youth.
What is that change you may ask? My feelings towards Christmas.
When I met Karl, it didnt take long to realize that Christmas was a major event for him. November 1st marks when he starts putting up his trees, pulling out his more treasured Christmas movies, and Christmas songs become the playlist of choice. It is his “Winter Wonderland ” and for me it was a bleak reminder of my childhood. It was a reminder for his, as well, but of a more joyful time.
He chose to focus on the brightest points to create the joy he wanted in his heart where for me it was a staunch reminder of the pain and hardships. It was a time to relive the youthful joy and splendor. To comfort him in a world that surrounds us with so much strife and hardships.
I never could see that, in the beginning. I could only live with the memories I had from my past. Christmases filled with an enraged father staging a protest about the cost of electricity, the lack of need to give his children “expensive” gifts, and decorations that served no real purpose other than short term enjoyment. It was a time of year that often left me fraught with tension and misery. I couldn’t see beyond that.
It’s like a Hard Candy Christmas
As young kids, my sister and I would get excited for Christmas about the time our sugar high wore off the second week of November. We would start badgering our mother to put up the tree immediately and making lists of gifts we wanted. Around the week of Thanksgiving, she would give in and we would put up and decorate the tree. This would be the precipitative event that would spark my father into madness. As the tree went up, a strand of lights, a shiny bulb he would start going on about how we would not leave the lights on as it ran up the “light bill.” As if any person, kid especially, is able to resist the temptation to plug in those lights and see this magical, shining tree in all of its glory.
Once it was in place and the first gifts started making their way under it, our onslaught to try to open a gift early began. This was a never ending battle of wits to convince our mother that we absolutely “needed” to open just one gift early. That if we did, we would be good the rest of the holiday. Without missing a beat, our dad would launch into his diatribe about how we are lucky we are getting anything and we needed to shut our damned mouths. That would lead into how expensive what we wanted was. But, as children, we held out hope that Santa would never fail us, this time.
As the years passed and we got older, his stance on Christmas seemed to get more and more angry. My mother would plug in the tree when she got up early each morning and would make sure it was unplugged before he woke up. We would then plug it in as soon as we got home and listened like scared prey for the predator to make its presence known before rapidly unplugging the lights as he came up the drive way. This was how we spent our Christmas.
My father’s feelings about Christmas took root in me, without my knowledge. As I started my working career in retail, at a young age, I saw how adults acted about the holiday. Customers would become monsters when the idea of saving a dollar filled their minds. They became so incensed over it that they often lashed out at other people in violent means. Pushing little old women out of the way to get a deal on towels, or worse.
This only added to the triggers I already carried.
As you age from childhood to your teenage years, your peers start to change they outward mindsets over holidays, like Christmas. It isn’t cool to be into the holidays. Add to that my early fascination with goth culture and my feelings of the holiday slipped even further away. By the time my adulthood was in full swing, I started to loathe Christmas as much as my father appeared to but I didn’t see it.
All I want for Christmas…
Dating Karl was rough during Christmas. As I mentioned, I didn’t understand his love for it due to my past. I was left watching Halloween being shoved out of view before I even had a chance to forget its fun and a tree would be going up. In the beginning, it served to aggravate me almost as much as it seemed to bother my father. But this was based on my views of Christmas and not Karl.
I spent time trying to not let it bother me and just let him have his enjoyment but it was hard. The constant playing of Christmas music, seeing, and dealing with Christmas often became an overload. I knew I needed help if I was to try to not let this come between us. I brought this up to my therapist and discussed all of the issues I carried in relation to this “joyous time of the year.” She spoke to how my issues were with how I felt we were treated by my father and that was true. She tried to reinforce to me that those were the hurt feelings of a child that wasnt allowed to express their joy without the consequences of being punished. As a result, it triggered me into not wanting or liking to celebrate. I needed to distance myself from those feelings. Accept that they happened and hurt my inner child but also reinforce that the inner child now was given room to be happy with it.
In practice, it sounded easy enough, but was harder to implement. Little did I know that it would be changing with the smallest of events.
This year, Karl planned for us to take a holiday trip to Europe to visit four cities in three countries. While we were there we would be visiting Christmas markets. He had not been to one in several years and wanted to share the experience with me. I was excited at the thought of the trip since I had always wanted to see cities like Prague and Budapest. I was willing to deal with the Christmas scene to experience those cities with him. I did hope that in some small way that I could see the magic of it all through his eyes and understand it more. At the very least, anyway.
We flew to Budapest on the first of the month and on December 2nd we got off a bus a short distance from the hotel we would be staying at and walked our way there. This gave us a chance to see the city and start making plans. We passed through a small Christmas market and I have to admit with the combination of the chill in the air, the small booths set up, and the smells filling the air, it almost had a Christmas vibe that entranced my very soul. We rested a bit after our trip to Hungary and then decided to head out that night for some exploring and markets. I remember walking towards St Stephen’s Basilica and hearing Christmas music filling the air and a glow of lights taking over the horizon. There was a part of me that was filled with the dred I was used to, during this time of year but a larger part of me was filled with the excitement of being in a city that has long been on my bucket list.
As the market at the foot of St Stephen’s Basilica came into view, my heart raced and my mind seemed lost in the wonderment. It had this old world charm about it that just oozed community and goodwill. My mind was transported to an old world village square with local artisans hawking their wares while snow drifted on the air and joyous voices wafted through the stalls and people. It was as if the very essence of Christmas was trying to introduce itself to me for the first time. Happy and festive people surrounded us and it was, somewhat, intoxicating. I remarked that it sort of made me feel like the Grinch when her heard the Whos singing as dawn approached on Christmas morning.
What sold it for me was when we opted to head to Old Buda to visit a community Christmas market he had heard about.
We were warned that this was an area that was less English speaking but it didnt deter us. We walked towards a quaint market that was nestled between two apartment complexes but at the same time seemed so far removed from that spot. American Christmas music filled the air and there was a small ice skating rink with locals skating. Flanking the rink were stalls offering various choices in foods and drinks and we dove in as if we hadnt eaten or drank anything in months. Karl stopped for a punch at the first stall we met and the woman running it did not, in fact, speak any English. Through some clever signing, Karl got his drink and the woman just engaged us in Hungarian conversation as if we had been long lost friends or family. The smile that lit up her eyes was as genuine as a grandmother smiling at her grandchildren. We moved on to a food vendor that sold us a Budapest grilled cheese sandwich.
Okay, I have to stop the story here to explain what that is. When it was being prepared, we watched in amazement as the woman toasted a piece of french bread, grabbed a hockey puck serving of cheese that had been grilled, also, and put it on the toasted bread. Then we were asked if we wanted it to be topped with a garlic sauce or a black berry jam. We both chimed to her that we wanted one of each. There are few words that can describe the party that was in our mouths after tasting each version.Forever will it change how I see an American version of grilled cheese.
As we ate our grilled cheese and drank our drinks, I felt a wonderment about Christmas that I had not felt in thirty-some years.Seeing this tightly knit community come out for a market that celebrates joy, love, and holiday cheer warmed me more than any wrapped package or decorated tree had, in as many years. I started to understand why it was so important to Karl and why, no matter the darkness of our pasts, this one time of year the light of the holiday could enter our hearts and souls to warm us from the cold negative experiences we endure.
It’s Christmas time again
This year sparked a change in me that I had not been looking for or expected. My eyes had been opened to the wonderment that someone important to me witnesses at this time of year and I was given the luxury of experiencing without my jaded pre-determined ideals. It was, for lack of a better term, a Christmas Miracle.
Now kiddies, before you start calling bullshit on me, let me state that I still have my misgivings about Christmas but the bigger part is I know have a wonderment that I have not had since my youth and it makes me want to work harder to get past my emotional triggers so I can fully engage with someone so important to me at a time that is so very important to them. In a year of many changes, this one is as important if not more so than some others. It is one that I can say, on this side of the experience, that I will now welcome with open mindedness that I didn’t in the past.