My heart sank when I spotted the first Christmas lights in the neighborhood.
Oh, don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against sparkling reindeer and dancing elves.
Still, they’re a stark reminder that I’m facing the third Christmas without my husband at my side. And I suspect I’m not the only one battling the holiday blues.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? That’s what the carols assure us — as we supposedly deck the jolly halls and listen for reindeer hooves on the roof.
But perhaps you remember the plaintive plea in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” when Charlie Brown admitted, “I think there must be something wrong with me. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
I’m guessing many people can identify with his plight — like patients in nursing homes and hospitals, who’d rather be anywhere else on Christmas morning.
Grieving people who’ve lost spouses and children, survivors of broken romances and folks without jobs.
My husband, who was also my best friend, died two years and four months ago. Little wonder the holidays are chock-full of memories featuring this kind, gentle fellow.
When I was clearing out his closet, I discovered a long-forgotten cache of chocolates, which he’d purchased for me one Christmas — and then hidden from me, upon my request.
You see, I tend to wolf down such goodies, so we agreed he’d dole out a few, rather than give me the whole box.
In my mind’s eye I see us, sitting snugly by the hearth, opening each other’s gifts. I picture him munching on the Italian biscotti I made for him each year.
And I remember us filling the car with gifts and heading to Florida, where relatives enjoyed his sumptuous salads and homemade wine.
I love that simple babe in the manger, but feigning merriness is challenging. And I hope these tips will help you conquer the Christmas blues.
First, it’s OK to forgo some traditions until you’re ready for them.
You don’t have to try every cookie recipe in the magazine and decorate your house so it looks like Martha Stewart’s elves went on a rampage.
As for me, I no longer put up our little “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree, nor do I send cards. I still purchase gifts, largely for children, and enjoy admiring other people’s trees.
Decide what’s meaningful for you and your family, rather than competing with the Joneses, whose dog wears holiday sweaters and whose SUV sports antlers.
Second, it’s fine to decline invitations to parties when you’re not feeling festive. There’s no law saying everyone must celebrate the season the same way.
For me, the heart of the holiday is baking cookies with my aunt and cousins, attending Mass and watching a herd of children level a mountain of presents.
Add a glass of eggnog and I’m good to go.
Third, bring joy to others, even when your heart is aching. It helps to remember Mother Teresa’s advice about doing “small things with great love.”
Sing carols at a hospital, visit a nursing home, call a friend and support a charity.
Part of my Christmas tradition is remembering faraway people, whose lives have been shattered by violence.
Each year I give money to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity that helps persecuted Christians worldwide.
Many families are without food, clothing, medical supplies and housing. They can’t easily thank their benefactors, but maybe we’ll meet each other in heaven.
If you’re down in the doldrums this season, rest assured you’re not alone. And if you’d like the gift of prayers, let me know — and I’ll gladly add you to my list.
Lorraine’s most recent addition to her trilogy of church mysteries is “Death Dons a Mask.” Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.