by Christina Enevoldsen
When I was thirteen, I wanted four children. The entire reason I wanted a family of that size was Christmas. I imagined that the perfect Christmas mandated a house full of family. My children would be dressed in matching outfits and my oldest child would play the piano as we gathered around to sing carols. We’d sip hot chocolate and tell stories around the fireplace. We would take turns opening gifts and laugh with surprise and delight.
I’ve celebrated in a variety of ways throughout the years, but that idyllic holiday dream was never realized. For years, I strove for that fantasy and compared every holiday to it.
I developed many more ideas about what Christmas was supposed to be. Christmas was supposed to be white with snowmen and glistening trees, though seventy degree Arizona winters made that unlikely. Christmas was supposed to be extended family gathering from the corners of the globe, though through feuds and disinterest, that never happened.
When my children were grown and I divorced their father, my ideas of the holiday relaxed slightly. It didn’t demand all family; cherished friends could make up the Christmas chorus. So my new husband and I played host to friends who didn’t have any other place to go. We temporarily adopted orphans or those too broke to travel home to see their own families. I didn’t always have my own family around me, but we always had a full house that was alive with love and laughter.
When I started to confront my childhood sexual abuse, everything changed. I didn’t want to host any parties or even attend any. I couldn’t tolerate the pressure to feel festive and I didn’t have the energy to wear a fake holiday grin. The rest of the world was celebrating, but I was in mourning.
The holiday only brought up more pain and there was no getting away from it, so I decided to make use of it. Instead of covering it up or running away from it, I faced it. Celebrating was out of the question, so I let the tears roll. It wouldn’t be what I hoped for, so I’d let it be an opportunity. Since my emotions were coming out in full strength, I wrote about my disappointment and my grief. I expressed my anger and sadness. I got it out and it was a relief.
The Christmas that I shifted my expectations, I didn’t see my parents, children or any other relatives. My children started making traditions of their own and I realized that I had been tied to holiday traditions for too long. I was tired of what Christmas was “supposed” to be. The “supposed to be’s” were killing any possibility of enjoying what the day could be.
My husband and I decided to spend Christmas week on the beach in Malibu. It’s far from what I thought Christmas should be, but it was one of the best weeks I ever remember. I had the freedom to watch movies in my pajamas and have a meal of cookies and egg nog. I could sleep in as long as I wanted. I could bury my nose in a novel.
I didn’t have to please anyone or worry about hurt feelings. I didn’t have to take anyone’s tastes or preferences into consideration. I didn’t have to conform to traditions I don’t like. I didn’t have to cook or clean or go anywhere. I didn’t have to pose for pictures or even brush my hair. As I released my expectations of Christmas, I was released from expectations on me.
I decided I was re-gifting Christmas that year. I decided that the obligations of traditions that came from my family, my culture or even from my fantasies no longer fit me. Someone else can have them. The holiday is just a date on the calendar, not the defining moment in my life.
My gift to myself that year, and every year since, has been to put aside any expectations of what the day should be and to embrace what it is. I’m not trapped in Christmases past or hoping for something that isn’t possible.
That year was a turning point. There isn’t much pain associated with the day anymore. But if more pain surfaces in the future, I’ll give myself the room to grieve.
The past few Christmases have been spent with our children and grandchildren and I love hosting them. But with or without loved ones gathered, I’m one of my loved ones and I’m serving me.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
Does this resonate with you? Please join in by leaving your thoughts and feelings about this topic and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments.