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What’s your favorite holiday?

In his New Day diary yesterday, Dragon5616 got the ball rolling about Christmas, so-called "Blue Christmases" in particular. Right around this time every year, even without external prompts like this, I remember that if I do have a favorite holiday, it is not Christmas.

Oh, I’ve had some good Christmases in the mix, and at this point I’ve reached a truce with the whole production. But there have been some notable downers. I mentioned one in Dragon’s diary: the Christmas I was 14, when my mother’s brothers came to blows over something unbelievably small. I think that event was a direct cause of the general chill that came over the extended family on my mother’s side, which at this point, forty years on, is not going to end.

Then there was the Christmas that my sister decided I wasn’t welcome to attend festivities at her house, if I brought my girlfriend along. So we stayed home and had a lovely holiday with other family outlaws. (I will add the important information that my sister did thaw, pretty quickly, and her attitude became far more welcoming.)

But there have been good ones, too, along the way. I remember one such holiday, over 20 years ago now, when my parents and my immediate family got together at my brother and sister-in-law’s for Christmas Eve, and all had a wonderful time. It snowed that evening, and as we were leaving, the four kids present had some impromptu sledding on the front lawn. Lovely.  However, I think that was the year before all of us sibs got divorced, one way or another, and after that all bets have been off in terms of large family gatherings at this season.

My routine has settled down, too, from the way it was a few years ago, when between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I would cover 200 miles driving between my parents’ house and the houses of my exes. That was no fun. One year I came home listening to Frank Sinatra singing, “One For My Baby—and One More for the Road,” which suited my mood perfectly.

Now, my immediate family (my husband and my two daughters) are lucky enough to have Christmas Day together. We’ll have a cozy brunch after opening stockings, and we’ll probably chill out together all day till an early dinner, to accommodate my older daughter’s need to travel back home for work the next morning. My husband’s kids all head out to Maryland to join their mother for Christmas; neither one of us expects that to change. Well, unless grandkids start appearing on the part of the couple who are based in this part of the country. That will prompt some rebalancing, I expect.

Of course, Christmas Day comes after the marathon celebration of Baby Jesus’ Birthday (in laypersons’ terms, Christmas Eve) that my husband orchestrates at the church where he is the director of music. That set of obligations keeps him busy from 2 PM to midnight; with luck, we won’t have to stay up till the crack of dawn doing last-minute prep. This year, perhaps for the last time, my daughters and I will head to my mother’s for Christmas Eve festivities: dinner that we bring in to cook; carols on the stereo; a gift exchange. We will have a wonderful family surprise to present my mother, namely a custom-made lap quilt by Sara R and Winglion bearing messages from all of us in the family. It will be a great gift, I am sure, and yet the underlying reality is that each holiday could be my mother or father’s last. I am healthy enough now not to fear that it will be mine, but of course no one can ever be sure of another year, let alone another day.

Anyway. For a long time, in other words, Christmas has set me up for disappointment. Disappointment in family kindness and support; disappointment in religious nurturance; disappointment in feelings of peace and contentment. The last one is really on me, and so the last few years I’ve tried to pay closer attention to my internal responses.

When I was pregnant with my older daughter, now almost thirty years ago, I approached her due date (late January) with a certain amount of apprehension. Perhaps most first-time mothers do. My circumstances were rather more precarious than many—and though it interrupts the narrative for me to cut off explanations here, I will ask you simply to trust me when I say they were fraught.

But that season, I found unexpected reassurance in the old carol, “Joy to the World.” Mind you, I didn’t know then if I would be having a daughter or a son, and for that matter I have never been all that happy that Jesus was a boy. But the spirit behind the carol’s words—of every heart preparing room—struck home in a way it had never done before. I knew I needed to be ready for whatever would come, then and ever afterwards. Since then, these have become the core meaning of Christmas for me: radical acceptance, a willingness to be open to grace, and the miracle of each child’s birth. Those are good lessons for me to keep close, but as yet they don’t outweigh the other pressures of Christmas, historical or present-day.

This is a very long and roundabout explication of why Christmas is NOT my favorite holiday, no? I’ve been mulling over my real answer all day, and I think that the holidays that bookend summer—May Day and Labor Day—are probably my joint favorites. It’s worth considering why, to be sure, and yet I think I will save that disquisition for another time, and let you all weigh in now about your own favorites.

So, what’ll it be? Religious, secular, personal? Widely celebrated or idiosyncratic? Traditional or experimental? And—in a small but perhaps meaningful (I hope) gesture to the purpose of this series—what impact, if any, has living with cancer had on your approaches to your favorite holiday(s)? I’m all ears.

Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.
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