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When my daughter walks in the door, Christmas walks in with her. Like Fezziwig in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, she makes Christmas a jubilant holiday for all with her unbridled joy. Also, having spent months buying presents so wonderful, heartfelt and personal, she has made my sons cry and left me in awe.

Fueled by adrenaline and Starbucks, she leaves New Hampshire with a car filled to the brim with goodies, often driving through the night, quite like a real-life Santa, because she does not expect anything in return. Simply, she takes delight in the giving.

My family waits with anticipation for her. There are candles in the window, pine boughs around all the doors, and my grandchildren and I have the kitchen table filled with Sugarplums (yes, we make them), Truffles and cherry almond fudge.

As she pulls up the driveway, we all run out to meet her. She exits the car, with her blond hair in beautiful disarray, and starts chiding her brothers to unload the trunk as she swoops her niece and nephew in a hug and spins their little legs around and around as they twirl. My heart wants to burst; I am so happy to see her.

The Christmas Eve menu has been discussed by my daughter and me weeks before and consists of mussels, lobsters, salmon and shrimp with a loaf of Italian bread. Homemade Tiramisu for desert. It is the night of the fishes. Inevitably, she’ll want to open presents after dinner, but we will all beg her off, wanting to keep the anticipation as long as possible.

Eventually, she will wear us down and pick one person that has to open a special present. It is always magical, custom made, and I am in awe of her preternatural ability to pick just the right thing.

It’s a Hallmark Movie Holiday ‘Till It’s Not

But she won’t be home for Christmas this year, and the entire family is dazed. We are in so much distress, we are not sure how we can celebrate without her or if there is even any Christmas if she is not here. But we will, because my family is resilient despite the additional wrench of the first Christmas without grandchildren due to my son’s recent break-up.

I have some experience in this department, having suffered through many years of facing being alone for both Thanksgiving and Christmas because my children were with my ex. The sadness, disbelief and loneliness when your Hallmark movie goes sideways to Hell are as dark as the winter nighttime.

Spitting into the Wind

Yet, after some time of wallowing in a grief and absolutely hating and dreading the holiday season, I acted.

I remember one gray, cold, icy Christmas Eve where I sobbed so hard I gave myself a migraine. The next year’s holiday season, however, I accepted invitations from friends. Getting out of the house helped despite my dread and how awkward I felt.

Then, I got braver and began hosting framily holiday parties, inviting friends, strangers and other people who were going to be alone on the holidays, to my house. Once again, the holidays were filled with life and laughter.

As my confidence in my alternative holidays grew, I signed up for delivering meals on wheels and serving holiday meals at local churches. In an incredible final act of holiday Hallmark defiance, I trailered my horse deep into the woods on Christmas Day and rode for hours, my dogs trotting along at my side, experiencing nature, silence and a peaceful divine oneness that was unmeasurable.

What This Christmas Looks Like for Me

So, this Christmas, as my son spends his first holiday without his children and my daughter is miles and miles away, he and I are going fly fishing far up a mountain stream for native trout.

We will bring two cast iron frying pans, two deck chairs, which we will sling across our backs, some potatoes in a knapsack, and fry up any catch over an open fire.

And my daughter? She is hosting her own framily get together, having invited friends who are estranged from or can’t travel to family. At her house, they will gather for her signature cocktails, a bountiful charcuterie board, and I am sure her laughter, which I always hear, especially at Christmas time.

Hallmark movies, for the holidays and otherwise, should really catch on.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you handle holidays when your life has brought change? Hallmark movies or Festivus? What’s your alternative to Family gatherings? Do you have someone or someplace special that captures holiday magic for you?

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