It’s limbo week–after Christmas, before New Year’s. My kids are across the country visiting their dad and his family. And here I am with time to reflect.
Christmas with my sweet boys was a gift. I only have them every other year, so I treasured the day more than usual.
But the Christmas season was …
well … what … ?
For many years, I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on it.
The magic is gone. I grew up. I get that.
A sweet and sour mixture of cheeriness and black sludge. Something like that.
Putting together the pieces
Lately I feel so lost. I don’t know what to go back to. Or what to pull from. Or where. With many special occasions, but especially Christmas, I feel like I have to start all over again–build something completely new. But I don’t know how. How do you build a new holiday from something that draws so heavily on memories and traditions from years past? It’s exhausting.
For me, Christmas is like a giant patchwork quilt.
It wasn’t always so expansive. When I was little, I had no Christmas at all. I built it square by square, year by year, memory by precious memory.
Each token, each beautiful Christmas symbol that has become a part of me throughout my lifetime is also a part of my quilt. I look through the folds and see sparkling Christmas stars and glittering lights from my childhood. I recognize familiar smiles and rosy cheeks stitched here and there. I pull the comforter close and hear laughter and jingle bells and choirs singing. Smells of cinnamon, pine, and Poppa’s fresh-baked cookies envelop my senses.
But then my eyes pass over an old square, perhaps a family photo. We are smiling, but the smiles aren’t real. I reach out, and it scorches my hand. I recoil in horror. It’s a trigger. A square from a Christmas I’d rather not remember. Suddenly I see them dotting my precious quilt. Triggers. They are everywhere. Wrapped around me. Burning my flesh.
I thrust the quilt away. I want to run, but I can’t. I hunch over the smouldering heap with tears in my eyes. I can’t abandon it. I have worked so hard and so long on my quilt. It is too precious. I have to save it!
In a panic, I begin grasping the glowing patches, one by one–ripping them from the quilt and tossing them aside. It’s hard work. The squares hold fast. They are strongly stitched. I snatch and tear at the flaming fabric, pain searing through my fingers. I bleed. I weep. Lights flash in my face. Bells clatter in my ears, but I’m too angry to hear. I’m burning inside, and everything hurts.
And then the deed is done. I sit with a pile of ashes around me. Torn, singed shreds of fabric hang about my shoulders where my beautiful blanket used to be. Most of the batting is gone now, and great holes gape in the once-orderly rows of patchwork. I still hear a faint carol, smell a whiff of peppermint. But mostly I shiver. I pull the shards of Christmas around my huddled body, but it doesn’t help much. Most of the blanket is gone now. Destroyed.
I sit and weep.
Another Christmas has come and gone. I retrieve my battered patchwork quilt from the attic, almost too sad to look at it. It’s so holey and mangled.
I go through the motions. I sing. I smile. I bake. I read the miraculous story in Luke. I ponder.
Suddenly I don’t feel so judgmental when I consider the Grinch … or Scrooge … or Mr. Grump-fish on the Bubble Guppies Christmas special. The bows and gifts and clutter all seem to mash together. Some days I am okay with it. But other days I feel virtually assaulted.
Most days I’m content to watch my children enjoy the season. I start there. It’s something I know how to do. I can be a mama at Christmas. That hasn’t changed. I do my best to make the season beautiful for my little ones. I cherish them. I try to see Christmas again through their eyes. Before my view of the world was so jaded.
Slowly I add new squares to my quilt. But it is hard work, and slow.
Now I am a Bergman. With wedding bells come new Christmas squares, new memories, new faces for my quilt. I welcome the change, but am also met with the reality that merging two quilts is no easy task!
Christian and I bring multiple children and thirty years of previously married Christmases between the two of us. Weaving everything together doesn’t happen overnight.
And as time passes, something else happens–something I didn’t expect. My heart begins to heal, and I find old squares. Traditions are resurrected, although maybe tweaked a little. (It’s okay. We evolve.) Burned bridges are mended. We untangle twinkle lights that got lost in the garage for a few seasons, and although they aren’t quite the same, we are okay to bring them out again.
A work in progress
Year after year, I mend my quilt. I bind the tattered edges. I re-stuff the batting. The new squares are stiff, but I know the blanket will become soft again … eventually. I wrap it around myself and try to feel as I did so many years ago–so full, so comforted. But there are still holes. I feel the cold sneak through.
My patchwork quilt is not perfect. (Are they ever?) I guess the imperfections make it unique.
Every so often, I look down and I remember a missing square. Or I find a trigger. But usually it startles me rather than scorching my hand or my heart. I am learning to keep the triggers–to live with them–rather than rip them out. It’s a process.
My quilt is not quite warm and snugly yet. It’s still under construction.
But I’m working on it. And I’m learning to be patient.
All the best things in life take time.
Featured image (top, beautiful handmade Christmas quilt) courtesy of Linzsews.