One Christmas Eve about eight years ago, the man I’d been dating for almost two years did not invite me to join his family for holiday festivities.
I was surprised. I certainly wasn’t expecting it. And I confess I was a bit hurt. But at the same time it wasn’t unprecedented. I knew that he was close to his family. He’d remained close to his ex-wife. At least once a week they hung out together with their grandkids. They were close to their kids as well. They had created a great family and a little thing like divorce had not prevented them from continuing to enjoy that family together.
I knew he was no longer in love with her, so that helped. I also knew they still basically respected each other, and I really respected that. Their relationship was very civilized. They had, after all, lived in Berkeley for quite a while. As a matter of fact, she still lived there in the family home. I actually thought it was great that they were still friends. (That’s not to say there weren’t still “issues” at times.)
I actually understood why it complicated things to include me. I’d been to some of their family gatherings and generally, everyone was pretty nice to me, but I think his ex had trouble with me being there. I knew she still loved him. I knew that even though she and I had become tentative friends (we were in a spiritual group together), there was still a modicum of jealousy. And so there would always be this small undercurrent of tension. So it made sense to me that, once in a while, they’d want to get together as a family without me there. (Maybe she’d requested that I not come. I never asked and he never told.)
So anyway, I found myself all alone on Christmas Eve. I guess I neglected to mention that I was in California at that time – a whole continent away from the rest of my family. I had never, ever imagined myself spending Christmas Eve alone. Christmas Eve had actually always been even more special to me than Christmas. Christmas Eve was when our family had a big turkey dinner and then got dressed up to go to the beautiful candlelight service at our church. It was my favorite service of the whole year. There was no big sermon. Instead the Christmas story was read and many Christmas hymns were sung. (And I love to sing.) And it was very beautiful with lots of poinsettias around the altar and low lighting. Then those lights were extinguished as we each lit one another’s candles. By the glow of these small white candles, we sang the final hymn, Silent Night.
Well, clearly I wouldn’t be doing any of that. No family, no dinner, no church, no boyfriend. I was sitting alone in his apartment after he left. What was I going to do? I decided to light some candles at least. (There were no decorations in his apartment. It was very un-Christmas-y.) And then I found myself singing Christmas carols. In the glow of a few candles, in a dark room by myself, I sang and sang and sang. One after the other. Hark the Herald. O Come All You Faithful. We Three Kings. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. O Holy Night. What Child Is This? O Little Town of Bethlehem. Silent Night.
As I sang my heart out, feeling the beauty in the words, I soon realized this was the holiest Christmas Eve I’d ever experienced. There were no distractions. No crowds, no mindless conversations, no snacks or desserts. Just me, some candlelight, some songs, and God. It felt so worshipful, so heartfelt, so sacred.
I share this story because if you happen to find yourself in an unusual or unhappy situation this holiday, I want you to realize you always have the opportunity to create a new ritual. You can always pull away from the crowd and the chaos and the drama and spend a little peaceful, sacred time with you and your God.
A blessed, holy night to one and all.