It’s the holiday season and I want to play. I want to share pictures, drink eggnog, and feel Christmas Cheer. I want to counteract the stress that often comes with the holiday season – with chronic illness or without – and share moments from past Christmases that light me up. While the eggnog is not yet an option for me (1)’cause I have intolerances to many foods, which I am working on with the GAPS diet, there are many little things that have unexpectedly brought a sense of joy and “normal” to my life in recent years.
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Living with chronic fatigue, for one, is turning out to be just a normal part of being human, for challenges come into all of our lives in different shapes and sizes. This post adds another resource as we all find ways to make our challenges simply another part of a landscape that is also sprinkled with laughter and connection. And so I present to you: Chronic Illness Christmas Lite.
Charlie Brown Christmas Trees
When David and I got together we started experimenting with the creation of our holiday traditions. The trial runs included keeping things simple so that we could accommodate my fatigue and still find ways to enjoy ourselves. The results are becoming part of our lore as we grow our history together.
We started simple. With cheap and easy versions of Christmas trees.
Popcorn and Cranberries
On our first Christmas together 8 years ago, David and I bought a real tree and sat on the couch for hours making strings of popcorn and cranberries to drape it with. We made popcorn ornaments and stacked cranberries onto little hooks. The popcorn was a tradition I hadn’t done before and it was fun to sit on the couch together doing something so simple and domestic. It felt comforting. And connecting. Like an old couple who’d been together for decades. And I could pace myself and make it work with my energy levels.
That experience is a pearl on a strand of joyful moments. Gradually turning into a bracelet.
The Twig Tree
I have a fond memory of my grandmother sometimes making her Christmas trees from deciduous branches. She would stick the branches in a pail and dress them with lights, ornaments and tinsel just like any other tree. It looked special and ethereal. The
best most intriguing part happened after Christmas when she’d taken down the decorations. She’d keep it watered for a few weeks and watch the gentle and magical arrival of early spring in her living room as the leaves emerged. Outside, the snow drifts of Quebec winters would be growing and the storms raging by. Her tree was like a talisman, reminding us that spring really would come again.
I tried to recreate this tree in the early years of my chronic fatigue when I wanted something festive but needed it to be easy and inexpensive. David and I experimented with it too.
We used the brilliantly red branches from the grows-like-a-weed dogwood in the back yard.
Despite that, our tree didn’t hold a candle to hers. Probably because we used too few and way-too-cheap itsy bitsy decorations.
Thinking of the experiment brings fond memories of my grandmother’s house filled to the brim with the smell of turkey and stuffing and meat pies, her table laden with freshly made doughnuts and cakes and other traditional recipes for our big family gatherings.
And I find myself smiling every time I see or even think of this tree, which I associate with this wonderful, slightly blurry picture of David. Good-naturedly supporting my impulse and helping me make what he still thinks of as a rather insane looking Christmas tree.
The Twig Tree, he calls it to this day.
Tree in a Bucket
When David and I got engaged and moved in together we looked for versions of Christmas trees that we could both like. We tried branches from the bushy juniper tree in our front yard and put them in a tall plastic bucket, upgraded to slightly more expensive cheap ornaments, and added David’s favorite holiday treat of chocolate mint candy canes.
We laughed when none of our family or friends had anything complimentary to say about what we thought of as a sweet little tree (they had nothing to say at all, in fact). Like the twig tree, it’s a memory that makes us both laugh.
I had fun putting my little bits of creative Christmas energy into painting images on white wrapping paper that year and as I had become unable to travel home for the holidays, my mother started a tradition of over-nighting some of her special family Christmas treats. Even though I was having trouble tolerating most of those home-cooked favorites, it was still worth it to eat some, introduce them to David, and enjoy those fantastic aromas when we heated them up in our own kitchen.
Three years ago we took the plunge, splurged, and bought a real tree again. It’s the tradition that we are adopting after experimenting over the years. And on a spur-of-the-moment impulse to go on a little holiday-spirit shopping spree, I invested some energy to go to a hobby store where I found some shiny glass ornaments and decorative red berries, all on sale in the few weeks before Christmas.
Our idea of what we like in a Christmas tree is evolving. Kind of like us.
I love taking out our pretty ornaments and putting them out as little extra touches of festivity. The juniper branches now serve as “accessories” rather than as the main show. They are simple things that give me joy. And add another pearl to the bracelet.
Finding Meaning in Gifting
Off and on in recent years I’ve started wondering what would give me pleasure in the process of gift-giving. In addition to paring down and simplifying, I’ve been playing with home-made gifts. It is what currently feels the most meaningful to me. It takes energy, which remains unpredictable and stingy, but what I DO have is a certain luxury of time. And so, by pacing it I’ve been able to indulge in my creative side.
Last year I played with my water colors and painted note cards for gifts. It was like being a child but with more tools and skills, allowing time for wonder and waiting to see what would emerge.
It felt surprisingly satisfying and abundant to be able to steep myself in something that excites me.
This year, following a long spell of increased fatigue, I made cards from some of my favorite photos of the year instead of painting. I parcelled out the tasks of creating and designing, folding and wrapping, note writing and preparing for mailing. Time was my motivator and also my friend.
I cannot tell you that I experienced feelings of Christmas Cheer with every step of preparation along the way as I would have wished. But in gathering the moments of pleasure – when I saw my photos turned into art, thought of my loved ones as I wrapped, joked with the teller at the post office when I realized I’d forgotten about all the customs forms I still needed fill out – I began to see these moments as a series of meaningful experiences. Experiences that have left me with a sense of normal. A feeling of accomplishment and contentment. A sense that feeds and nurtures my experience of Christmas Spirit.
The pearl bracelet is turning into a necklace.
The following blog posts also inspired me and gave me a “sense of happy” about the tradition of gift giving: 10 usable, consumable non-things to give and (in a highly irreverent colorful writing style) gifts for a writer.
Taking time for Self-Care during the Holidays
The photos below have been harbingers of the Holiday Season for me. They invite a sense of quiet respite for times when life speeds up and I need a dose of stillness. For me, the walks and photographs bring a sense of peace. A little time in Nature helps – whether it is to bring a balance between the social activities and extra contact of busier holidays or to experience a sense of connection to self when the social interactions are few and the season is a quieter one.
The first snow of the season arrived while the apples were still bright red, having yet to freeze. The blanket of red hues behind the grasses were a little surprise.
The apples and last yellow leaves added a glow to these branches of the wild plum tree I’ve been watching since spring.
This quirky photo, taken in my front yard, puts a grin on my face every time I look at it. I’ve been slow to realize that Santa and the Elves got inspiration for their apparel and accessories from Nature.
A Sense of Community
On my morning walk a few days ago I noticed two shiny red objects on a couple of trees in the distance. They were in a grassy field bordered by houses and the Little Stream. The sight evoked a flicker of excitement as I found myself wondering if these objects might be ornaments.
Someone had playfully put two large red balls on the trees.
The next day, 3 new ornaments had been added.
It’s a wonderfully simple thing that creates a feeling of connection in me. Another sense of the Spirit of Christmas. Anonymous funsters – little elves at play. And perhaps an open invitation to join them.
I had what is becoming my annual spur-of-the-moment holiday-shopping impulse-outing a few nights ago. I bought an ornament to add to the Elves’ Collection.
I feel childlike excitement. Delight. Eagerness to see what, if anything, happens next. I’ll post any changes (new ornaments? snow?… ? ) on my facebook page over the holidays.
The Soul of Christmas
Humans. We have more in common than we have differences. Whether we are sick or healthy, rich or poor; whether we celebrate Christmas or some other Holiday, there is love in our hearts. Wishes for connection. For Magic. For Play. It’s not just the big stuff, but also the little things that can enable these desires to strengthen and to grow.
Like pearls on a necklace.
Like popcorn strands on a Christmas Tree.
I wish you the Best of Holidays. May you find your popcorn to add to your memories and the snow-covered apples to inspire your hearts.
My Other Holiday Posts
See my other Holiday Posts
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One place to start is by understanding and working with chronic illness from a nervous system perspective and one that explores the increasingly acknowledged effects of adverse life experiences.