My family really knows how to celebrate holidays! When I was growing up, every Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day was an excuse to have a huge family gathering. On any given holiday, you could find anywhere from 20-50 people at our house. It was a zoo—a big, happy, loving zoo.
Each holiday followed the same pattern. Early in the morning, my mother, my sisters, and I would start cooking. Since I was artistically inclined, I usually set the table (actually 2-4 tables placed end-to-end) and then I would put together relish and fruit trays. I loved arranging things as beautifully as possible while the smell of yummy food filled the air. My family would have a grand time together chatting and laughing as we finished meal preparations. Then, like a floodgate opening, the relatives would start to arrive. Soon the house was filled to the brim with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and anyone a family member decided to bring along. The house would ring with laughter, and I would be hugged more times than I could count. After a HUGE meal, we’d do dishes and then play all kinds of games. I really love card games and board games. Later, we’d put out the leftovers and let everyone eat supper buffet-style. Eventually, the company would leave and the house would be quiet again. My parents, siblings, and I would kick off our shoes and put our feet up and talk. For me, holidays meant family, family, and more family…then my illness struck.
Quarantine can really mess with your mind. It can feel so discouraging. My first year of quarantine, I didn’t mind the isolation too much—I was too ill to focus on anything other than survival. But by my second year, I really began to feel the strain. Quarantine was soul-sucking and disheartening—and I felt the loneliness the most during the holidays. As my family gathered to spend time together, I was stuck all alone in a silent house. At times, the silence was so loud that it physically hurt. I tried HARD to be a good sport. I’d bake tons of cookies and send them to the gathering. When my family called as a group to wish me a happy holiday, I tried to sound chipper and upbeat. But the minute I hung up the phone, I would start to cry. I felt awful. I can remember pacing back and forth, sniffling, my lower lip trembling.
Looking back now, I have to smile. I was such a tragic picture of woe. I felt SO sorry for myself. I’d lean my forehead against the window and look out—my breath fogging up the glass—and feel too hopeless to bother brushing my tears away. Family members and neighbors tried to brighten my day by sending me plates of foods and cards–and I appreciated it–but it didn’t stop me from feeling depressed, left out, miserable, and bored. I didn’t want to cook a fancy meal for myself—cooking for one person wasn’t any fun. After a few lonely holidays, my joy shriveled up and died. For me, holidays were anything but jolly. I started to dread them. I started to ignore them. I started to hate them.
During my third year of quarantine, as Thanksgiving approached, something began to shift in my thinking. I realized I hated holidays not just because they didn’t contain the people I loved, but also because I didn’t feel like it was worth the effort to make a fuss over myself. A few days before Thanksgiving, I sat with my chin in my hands and made plans to stay in bed with a book during the holiday, but suddenly, I began to feel a check in my spirit. Throughout my third year of quarantine, I’d been focusing on trying to hear the Lord, and the thing I kept hearing God say was that He loved me and I was important to Him. As I sat at the table and contemplated staying in bed, I realized that if the Creator of the Universe loved me and viewed me as important—how dare I view myself as anything less? I was WORTH making a fuss over. I was WORTH cooking a fancy meal for. I was WORTH celebrating! I was alive when I could be dead, and that was something to be thankful for! My partial amnesia had mostly cleared up, and that was something to be happy about! I had a reason to throw a party—even if it was a party just for one.
As I started planning my party, I began viewing the holiday without dread. I called my family and friends and asked how to cook a turkey (I’d always been on relish tray duty). I gathered recipes like I was gathering ammunition. Then I made my menu. All of my favorite foods were on it. The more I planned, the more excited I became.
When Thanksgiving arrived, I got up early and fixed my hair and makeup. Even though no one was going to see me, I wanted to look nice for myself. Then I started to cook and cook and cook. And while I cooked, I put on Christmas music. My goodness, what a feast I had!!! It was DELICIOUS!!! And after my meal, I dumped a puzzle and had a grand time putting it together. Somewhere during the middle of the day, I realized that I wasn’t feeling lonely. The close presence of God was hoovering beside me. I began to talk to God out loud—not so much praying as much as conversing. I’d felt the presence of God before, but that day, I felt God’s FRIENDSHIP. We had a marvelous day together. And by the end of that first happy Thanksgiving, I was singing praise songs and smiling.
Although I’m out of full quarantine now, I still have to be careful about large family gatherings, and most of my holidays are spent alone. But you won’t see me sniffling anymore or leaning my forehead against the window glass to boohoo. That Thanksgiving became a changing point in my life. Although I’ve spent over 30 holidays alone, the sting is no longer there. Holidays are no longer a necessary evil—they’re a chance to celebrate and have fun. You see, I’ve learned that the secret of enjoying myself is to stop feeling angry and cheated.
Being alone will either drive you crazy or teach you that you can be pretty incredible company. And frankly, after all this time, I know how to amuse myself. And I LIKE myself. And after all these years of whipping up holiday fare alone, I can proudly say that I make one MEAN turkey, my pecan pie is fabulous, and my stuffing is to die for! I’ve come to the point where I actually look forward to holidays, and that’s an amazing thing for me to say.
Life sometimes isn’t fair, and it sometimes hurts. But I’ve come to believe that happiness is more about perspective than circumstances. For the most part we choose whether we are miserable or joyful. I’ve spent LOTS of time being miserable, and as an expert on the subject of feeling sorry for myself, I can say with authority that choosing to be happy is a much nicer way to live. And choosing happiness has its perks. Rather than slumping around with your bottom lip quivering, you get to eat pie. Yummy pie. Delicious pie. And pie always makes things better.
So today, if you are gathering with family and friends, enjoy every second and hug them close. Truly make the most of every moment. Even if your turkey burns, or the electricity fizzles out, or you find yourself feeling harassed or upset or annoyed—remember that being around the people you love is a privilege—one that can be taken away. And if you’re celebrating all alone, realize that God loves you and that you are worth making a fuss over. Find a way to make today special for you. And as for me, the pies are made and my turkey is cooking. I’m getting ready to put on some Christmas music and start my puzzle. And since I’m getting stronger every day and my family has promised not to wear perfume–later on, I’ll walk over to my brother’s house where my family is gathering and see about playing a game. I fully intend on enjoying every second of this holiday. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, my friends. And always remember that despite any circumstance you’re facing, you are incredibly special, greatly loved, and never forgotten by God.
“Then Nehemiah…said to them all, ‘Do not mourn or weep…Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to the Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” (Nehemiah 8: 9-12)