An old friend popped up on Facebook earlier this week asking to be friended. Normally, I don't friend anyone I don't know and this person knew only 2 people on my list. I have standards, and yet something kept niggling at me to check him out. I went to his profile and the 2 people we shared in common were two people I respect and admire. I said yes to his friend request, and then he sent me a message.
As we chatted, I realized I knew him and hadn't heard from him in a couple years. He used to buy a lot of my blog posts and articles for his website. He's another someone I respect and admire, and we share a great deal in common. This year, we share being away from family and home for the holidays, he by choice and I because I have been traveling farther and farther from my hometown and what is left of my family. He asked me to write about what it was like to celebrate Christmas and the holidays alone without family.
I don't remember all the holidays I have spent without my family, but I do remember the first holiday here in Colorado alone at the cabin. That was really alone because I knew no one in the area and the people in Winter Park I knew had their own families. I wasn't about to horn in on their holidays. I'm sure they would have included me if I'd dropped a tear and a sniffle along with a whine in their direction, but I decided not to intrude.
I didn't have a cut Christmas tree that year and was feeling especially sad that year because I'd decided not to have a tree when it dawned on me that I had lots of trees surrounding the cabin, and one really perfect balsam pine that would look lovely decorated. I didn't have much money since I was laid off a few months before so buying ornaments was not happening. I had to save the money for food. What I could do was take some of that food and decorate the tree the old fashioned way, so I got busy.
I shelled nuts, scooped out oranges to make orange baskets, popped corn and strung it on thread (I had a lot of thread), strung cranberries, and thoroughly enjoyed myself making edible ornaments for the tree in the yard.
It snowed heavily a week before Christmas, but I packed all my ornaments into the canvas bags I used at the grocery store and trudged through waist high drifts to the tree. The rest of the bags were ready inside the French doors onto the deck; the tree was close enough to the deck for me to decorate the top and I was ready to go.
Orange baskets filled with peanut butter, suet, and seeds were hung on the branches with care. Strings of cranberries and popcorn festooned the branches from top to the bottom branches still above the snow. Home made suet and seed bells came next and I decked out the tree with strings of peanuts in the shell and little lettuce baskets filled with shelled nuts. In spite of the cold, and losing the feeling in my legs and hips, I sang Christmas carols and whistled while I worked, finishing up the decorations at the top of the tree from the deck, and tossing the rest of the garlands in somewhat graceful loops down the tree.
By the time I was back in the cabin and thawing in front of the stove, the sun was down and the stars came out in glittering stars like a treasure chest of jewels scattered across an endless black sky like midnight velvet. The moon rose and glowed across the snow, softening the hard edges of melted dunes and sun struck drifts.
With a large mug of hot cocoa in hand, I wrapped up in a blanket and walked out into the crisp cold of the winter night and stopped on the threshold. The night was alive with whisperings and snufflings and shuffling among the snow. The first animals of Christmas Eve had arrived and filled the night with their sounds of curiosity and pleasure. I slipped back inside the cabin and quietly shut the door so as not to disturb my first visitors and I pulled the recliner close to the windows so I could watch the celebration.
I fell asleep in the chair and woke Christmas morning with the sun streaming down from a pale blue sky. I got up and looked out and the tree was swarming with birds, pine martens, and mule deer as they came to the feast. The animals cleared everything from the tree over the following days until it was clear of all but empty string and the shreds of orange cup empty of contents.
I didn't mind being alone that year and, every time I think about another Christmas without family when I have to work, I remember that magical winter when I celebrated Christmas with the animals.
I miss living at the cabin when it's cold and dreary here at the foot of the mountains and the soft, silent perfection of a new snowfall is spattered with dirt and muddy water, and another day of work lies ahead with too little to look forward to, knowing I can look back on Christmases and Yules spent with friends while I look forward to sharing the holidays with my friends scattered here and there around the planet. I know that even though I have to work and will spend another holiday alone, I am not alone. Billions of families and groups of friends are gathering to share their gifts and meals in honor of this midwinter festival when the nights are the longest and we are farthest from the sun, and when a silent night can be filled with the wonder of sharing the holiday with whoever -- and whatever -- are there, and with memories of times long past and those yet to be.
Merry Christmas. Merry Yule. Happy Chanukah. Happy Holidays.