Throughout my childhood and as a young adult, I looked forward to my family’s annual Christmas gathering. The whole extended family–my numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins–would come together once a year. We packed into Grandma’s tiny, over-furnished house, where there was standing room only. We had our traditional foods, like Grandma’s springerle cookies, my aunt Agnes’ chocolate and coconut cookie bars, and the mulled cider I would simmer on her stove.
Grandma’s tiny artificial Christmas tree was always on the side table, decked out with heirloom glass ornaments, those big flashing multicolored lights, and Mylar icicles. Her curio cabinet always bore the same display of model cars painstakingly built by my cousins, candles shaped like a little Indian boy and girl, small vases, ceramic figurines, a collection of salt and pepper shakers and footed candy dishes of carnival glass.
After Grandma passed away 16 years ago, my cousin David began hosting the annual Christmas gathering at his house, which is much roomier–a good thing, because by then all my siblings and cousins had children, so the size of the family had grown exponentially.
My name was dropped from the list of Christmas invitees 11 years ago, after I had dared to speak up about the childhood sexual abuse (CSA) I had endured. Earlier in the year, nearly my entire extended family had cut me off. Initially, that was very painful. I could not understand how they could cast me out so readily, or how they could not show any sympathy or support for a family member in distress. Eventually, I figured out that for them, it is crucially important to keep the family’s dark secret, to the extent of casting out one of their members.
Gradually, I came to recognize that those who cast me out–especially without even caring to hear my view–were precisely those who are severely mystified and dysfunctional, and with whom I do not desire contact, anyway. I realized that these were people I saw once a year, and with whom I had no other contact. They did not even send holiday cards, much less, call on the phone acknowledge the birth of a baby or congratulate an anniversary. Our relationship existed just one night per year.
When a thing of importance is lost, it is good to replace it with something new. I thought about what was involved in attending the family’s Christmas gathering: two hours of food prep, one hour of getting the kids and myself ready, two hours of driving, plus two or three hours at the gathering. I was surprised to find it added up to seven or eight hours. I considered it seven or eight hours of freed-up time, and decided that I should spend it on something that mattered to me. I put that time and energy into creating the holiday decoration I had wanted to make for years: a light sculpture, of thin copper tubing covered in tiny lights, in the shape of Picasso’s peace dove. It was very pleasing to hang the completed sculpture outside and see it lit up. The elegant rising bird of peace illuminated the dark night and reminded me that I had found calm where pain had once ruled.
For the first time, I consciously chose the people and acts that make the holidays meaningful for myself. It was the one step in a personal revolution that continues to foment.
(c) 2005, 2010, Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.