I’m writing this column a couple of days before Christmas, and it looks like it’s going to be a white one. I’m thrilled, and so is Janey – the dog goes absolutely nuts when the ground is covered in fluff, zooming around and digging and snorting and making such a hullabaloo that we’ve been known to call her “Janey Cocainey.”

My parents made us watch the movie “White Christmas” every year, so maybe the passion comes from that, or maybe I just love snow, or maybe it’s the way that snow makes everywhere you look outside seem like a picture book, even the back roads of Buxton.

A couple of years ago, though, my family had a green Christmas. Christmas 2017 was only a few months after my dad died. The first holiday season after the loss of a loved one is always the worst. Reminders everywhere. Traditions that don’t quite work anymore. And a small, unexpected life insurance policy (thanks, Maine Public Employees Retirement System!) came to us after his death, so we decided that to heck with it, if we were going to be sad during Christmas, we were going to be sad in Hawaii.

We were too cold and dark and gray on the inside, in our grief, that the traditional Maine winter weather felt less storybook and cozy and more just – dead. Dead trees, dead plants under the snow, dead leaves, dead dad. Hawaii, though – Hawaii bursts with life every season. Every possible shade of green is there in the lush environment, and there aren’t any hibernating animals either. We were constantly surrounded by the cheerful white noise of the coqui frogs, the neighbor’s chickens wandering into the yard of our rental, and enough birdsong to fill a philharmonic.

The Bible makes a big to-do out of the baby Jesus being born in a stable because there was no room at the inn, but let me tell you, that stable was nothing compared to the Bob Hope USO at the Los Angeles International Airport three days before Christmas. We slept there for a few hours overnight before catching the final leg of our journey to Hawaii – before COVID hit, the USO was operating on a 24-hour basis – but I’m not sure “sleeping” is an accurate term for what I did. I mostly lay down quietly under a Christmas tree in the corner. There was nowhere else I could fit; heck, I couldn’t even roll over without accidentally kicking a traveling stranger in the ankle. My mom slept under a piano bench.

We spent Christmas Day that year on a nude beach. We didn’t know it was a nude beach when we got there, and it may not have an official designation in the guidebooks – all I know is that an excessive amount of flesh was on display, even for the tropics. We spent the day bobbing in the bathtub-warm Pacific, and I read a book on the beach, and that night we ate sushi for Christmas dinner and watched “All the President’s Men.”

We said we weren’t going to do a tree, or stockings, or even that many presents that year, since we used all the life insurance money on the plane tickets, and transporting baggage. But when we got up on Christmas morning – well, all our stockings were not hung by the chimney with care, because there aren’t very many chimneys in Hawaii for obvious reasons, but they were draped across the back of the couch, having appeared out of absolutely nowhere, as far as I could tell. It was more holiday magic than I had felt in years, since I was a kid and believed that the gifts that filled our stockings, which had been empty and saggy when we went to bed, were put there by Santa Claus. (I’m still not convinced that reindeer weren’t involved in the Hawaii caper, somehow.)

This marks our second pandemic Christmas season as a country. In the past two years, we have lost over 800,000 Americans to complications from COVID-19, and more will be lost before this storm is over. Each one of those people has left behind grieving loved ones. If your family is missing someone this holiday season, or – god forbid – will be missing someone the next, it’s OK to be gentle with yourselves.

It’s OK to break longstanding holiday traditions. If one doesn’t bring you joy, I don’t see much point in it. Most holiday traditions, I think, are about bringing families together – the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree, a favorite board game, mandatory midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. And if someone is missing, it’s going to feel impossible to bring your family together.

The feeling will fade, I promise. But you have to go through the tunnel to come out of the other side. It’s okay to try something new; it’s OK to be a little untraditional while you try to figure out how you want to configure the holidays going forward. Maybe don’t sleep on the floor of the Bob Hope USO, though.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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