Well, here comes December….I have to admit I flinch a little at the thought of having to do Christmas yet again. Of course commercial spaces are already showered in red, green and gold and the insanity of Christmas shopping has already started. I thought I’d be over this by now, that I would be able to enjoy the holidays like everyone else seems to. I mean it’s not all doom and gloom, there are things I do enjoy. There is no denying that there is some type of magic in the air around the Holidays. For me though it also brings a certain sadness with it. I’m sure most people hear Christmas and right away think about family, gifts, decorations or what have you. I don’t. Those things are secondary in my mind and not what comes into my head right away.
Let me see if I can get to the crux of the problem here because I was trying to explain this to someone yesterday and as I said certain things out loud it revealed that I live with certain things in my heart that I just can’t let go of.
So, my memories of Christmas as a child consist of how I used to feel when we were new comers to Canada. I missed my family. I missed my grandparents, my cousins, my uncles and aunts. We came to Canada and all I had here were strangers. My mom and I were sponsored by my mom’s surrogate sister. We came here and lived in the basement of her home where she lived with her husband and my three cousins. They were tweens to early teens and I was a little girl. I was 5 years old. Anyway eventually my dad came a few months later and here we were. Immigrants in a country where we didn’t speak the language, the weather was a shock to the senses and I didn’t have my whole family anymore. We didn’t have much, eventually we moved into our own place. A bachelor apartment for my parents and I in one of the worst intersections in Toronto. One of my cousins kicked us out…a kid, but his parents didn’t say shit. They let him. So we had to leave that house like we were running from something. Our Christmas for the first few years here were provided to us by numerous agencies. I think our tree we had at the time was donated to us. Christmas mornings for me consisted of one solitary box under the tree that was sent for me by the The Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund. It would be a box with a pair of gloves/mitts, a couple of cheap dollar store type toys, crayons and a coloring booklet. There are pictures of me standing beside this tree and the one box under it. Pictures of me opening it and looking so fucking excited. Our Christmas meals came from Honest Ed’s turkey giveaway and from Scott Mission’s food bank in downtown Toronto. Obviously as a child I was completely ignorant to the struggle. I do remember my mom rushing to the Food Bank to get what she needed to make her dinner before they ran out of the ingredients she needed. It was like that for a while. Things got better for us. We moved to a much nicer area, bigger place and Xmas became more festive. But I still felt that nostalgia, that sadness.
Now fast forward to me as an adult and as a mother. I get it now, everything my parents did. Everything my mom did so that no matter how sad she felt and no matter what hardship we were going through, she did her best at that moment to make the most of our situation and whatever circumstances we found ourselves in.
Four years ago I hit rock bottom, the lowest point I have ever been at in my life. I was jobless and on social assistance for just over a year. I had CCAS (Catholic Children’s Aid Society) coming to my home once a month because of all the bullshit drama that had happened in my home due to my separation from my kids’ father. I was literally going hungry and having to make the choice of buying food or paying rent. I had no way of giving my kids Christmas. I did my best to make the most of the holidays and tried to keep it as festive as possible for them. The worker that was coming to see me and my girls monthly was wonderful, she was very supportive of me. On one of her visits we talked about the upcoming holidays and she knew I was struggling so she asked me if I would be OK with CCAS helping me out. She was careful with how she asked, she got to know how proud I am and she knew I didn’t take hand outs. But I said yes. I recognized I needed the help. So CCAS created a family profile of my girls and I and we were adopted by another family for the holidays and that’s how I was able to give my kids Christmas that year. Through the kindness of others. They bought my kids toys, snowsuits and other items. They gave me a couple of gift cards so I could go grocery shopping and despite the fact that I didn’t ask for anything for myself there was a little self-care package that was put together for me that consisted of some aromatherapy candles and bath salts and a book I had mentioned in passing to my worker that I loved. To this day the feeling of gratitude I feel towards those strangers chokes me up. The memories of where I was in my life at that time and what I was going through with my kids saddens me and brings back that feeling of abandonment I had then. Maybe one day I’ll be able to put into words what my world was like back then. How I didn’t go crazy is my testament to how strong I can be.
Anyway, now we pay it forward. If I can’t find the joy of Christmas for myself, I can certainly try to offer it to others. The same way that family did it for me just a few years back. We adopt a family for the holidays every year and every year the parents never ask for anything for themselves so I take special care to put together a little self care package for them. No matter how broken we may feel at times or how alone, there is always someone out there willing to help. Even if they are strangers. Good people do exist.