Tag Archives: Christmas

The White Spaces

Merry Christmas 2017

“Open Your Heart and Look Around

Listen. Listen.

Hear the Song within the Silence

See the Beauty When There’s Nothing There”

~Idina Menzel~

This quote is of course from the incomparable Idina Menzel and her song December Prayer.  It has been the song that I find myself looking most forward to this Christmas – the one I relate to this year – the one that gives me pause and reflection.

As I was driving the other day I kept repeating the above verse in my head. I thought about how busy Christmas can be and I thought of our old fashioned calendar that hangs on fridge at home.

It probably surprises none of you that our entire lives are on that calendar.  The kids have been well trained (haha) over the years to put all their happenings there (Craig is less trained, but we laugh and forgive him as we sigh and go mark in his appointments and activities for him).  We have different color sharpies for each of us and we have become a well-oiled family machine of organization. (Albeit a machine that is maybe a little ancient because it still uses paper and pen – but alas it works for us).

At this time of year I often use that calendar to help me write our Christmas newsletter.  I pour over it and it helps me remember all the things that the past year held for us.  Looking at it I’m reminded of amazing trips and camping adventures, new jobs and new schools, sad endings and exciting beginnings.  This little calendar holds so much of our wonderful history over the past year.

But also, especially in months like December, the calendar can seem overwhelming. At first glance it is a sea of green, red, blue and black.  A constant reminder of all the things that need to be done, that we need to drive to, that we need to make time for.   There are times it’s easy to get anxious about the December page and how many boxes are filled in – not only with one color but with all four.  And yes – they are full of fun things we all look forward to – but still they are commitments that come with preparation and that often take us in four separate directions.

But then I take a deep breath and I look again.  And it is there I see my favorite thing and I smile.  All throughout this colorful, marked-over, tattered piece of paper there actually are some blank spots.  Beautiful blocks of emptiness. White space I have become fierce about protecting.

It is this white space that I have learned is sacred. These are not boxes ‘to be filled up’. It is here – in the space where “there is nothing there” – it is here where there is everything. Because it’s here where we are all together and unscheduled.  Sure there are lots of times we are together with green pen – times when we have family events & dinners at friends.  But these white spaces – this unplanned openness – those become the most beautiful days and evenings at Christmas. Times for us as a family.  Days and nights filled with ease – when we don’t have to get out of our pajamas, where we sit around the tree, watch movies, read, eat chicken bbq nachos and play games. Together. Those times are the most precious to me.  Those times don’t get penned into a calendar. Those times are found in the white spaces.

So when someone calls and asks if I am free on a certain date this holiday season, and my answer is no, it may not be because the box is filled with pen – but instead because its empty and I’ve learned to “Hear the Song within the Silence. See the Beauty When There’s Nothing There.”

So here’s to 2018 ~ I wish you all a year filled with health, happiness … and many white spaces on your calendars!

Merry Christmas,

Karrie-Ann

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Why I Still Write that Obnoxious Christmas Letter

I remember about six years ago I was sitting around a table with some colleagues in our lunch room near  Christmas time. We were talking and laughing and sharing, and one of the women mentioned her disdain for a certain trend that some of her friends and acquaintances regularly took part in: The writing, printing and subsequently sharing of the not-so-original Christmas Letter. She revealed her exasperation of this trend while others nodded, chimed in, and whole heartedly concurred. The practice of summing up you and your family’s life into one too-perfect, very-fake, succinct little 8 1/2 by 11 page. How smug these people were, with their narcissistic bragging about their perfect children, their fairytale accounts of their lives.  

And so there it was. On the inside of 10 minutes, a concise yet firm degradation of the somewhat infamous Christmas Letter.

I wanted to crawl under the table.

No really. It was one of those moments I wish the floor could have swallowed me whole.

Because “I” was one of those narcissistic women who penned those Christmas Letters every single year. Only mine weren’t one page long. Mine were three entire pages. Often in the smallest font size that I felt was plausible for reading, just so I could fit more of my bragging onto the page.  

Yes I wanted to disappear that day. Because I was one of those women.

Oh wait.

I still am.

Yes. You heard me. I still am one of those self centred authors of said Christmas letter. The only difference between then and now, is that I no longer want to crawl in a hole over this little tradition of mine – but instead whisper thank you for my consistent decision to participate in it without fail each year.

I started in 1999. We were living in New Brunswick at the time. Our children were yet to be born and it was mine and Craig’s second year of marriage. We had just come back from three weeks in Europe. It was before the existence of any social media, and before stamps cost a small fortune. That first letter was less than a page long, and I safely, and with pride, tucked it inside each Christmas card I sent. 

As the years have come and gone I have written a Christmas Letter (I began calling them “newsletters”) for each one. As the children came, and as they grew, so did the length of my letters. They developed a feel and style all their own. I took great care in choosing what paper I would use. I had different “sections” that changed over the years. In a world of immediacy and conciseness, I took the time each year to be thoughtful about what I typed.  

I adored these letters. I adored writing them and I adored sharing them. It was before the time of blogging and memes and they gave me a chance to write. They gave me a chance not only to share our year, but to do so in a creative, heartfelt and funny way.

But then, a few years back, enter Social Media. I was consciously delayed to the game of social media, but actively embraced it probably five years back. Now that I was on this platform called Facebook, what was there possibly left to share in the form of an old fashioned Christmas Letter, on actual printed paper? For a moment, a brief moment, I considered stopping.  

And then something, or rather someone(s) hit me over the head, and I realized something that is so clear to me now, it’s a wonder I didn’t connect the dots before.

These Christmas letters I write aren’t for everyone else. Not really.  

Instead they are for four people. The four people who matter most to me. Megan, Mark, Craig, and yes, even me.

A few years ago, as I was wondering what the point of them was anymore, and as I was feeling a little narcissistic about writing them, I turned around and I saw my daughter pick one up from the past year. She finished reading it, and asked me when I was going to finish the one for the current year. And it was then it hit me.

These three pages I type each year are a summary of our entire lives together. They are our history. They are carefully chosen words by me, her mother, in my own voice, detailing the highs (and yes sometimes even the lows) of our 365 days together as a family.  

And it was then I really “saw” it. Every year her and Mark wait to read the Christmas Letter. None of it is new information them – but they can’t wait to read it. They read how proud I am of them. They read what an amazing life we have together. They read about their accomplishments – and mine and Craig’s too. And I realized – my heavens – what a gift these are to them now and in the years to come. Their mothers own words about our lives together. Written with love and humour and pride. 

Our story. 

Maybe not in a book. Maybe not in APA format. Maybe a little too predictable in layout, and certainly not winning any writers guild awards.  But there it lies- our story – each year on the coffee table. Waiting for them. And they will have those forever.

This year (as the above photograph indicates) I caught Megan reading every single one. As she went back over the years I caught her laughing (and crying) and saying more than once “I didn’t know that.”

So yes. I do still write Christmas Letters. And yes, they can be narcissistic and a little ‘polished around the edges’ with a set of rose-coloured glasses sometimes. But every word is real. Every word is our lived experience as a family, a reflection of who we were, and tried to be, over the past years. And while none of it may be “news” anymore, it matters not. Because I’ve realized they weren’t really “news” letters to begin with. They are our history. And this year I am whispering thank you for every single one of them.

An Unexpected Gift

My best friend and I don’t get to see each other during the week of Christmas. And it seems the last number of years we don’t even see each other the entire month of December with busy family schedules. We live in different Provinces. And sometimes that really sucks.

It especially does over the Holidays when you want to be surrounded by your closest friends and family. 

Norah and I have been friends for 38 years now. She has been ‘my person’ for 25 of those. I actually ache for her during this time … these two weeks that I seem to define as the Holidays. Sentimental fool that I am. 

Phone calls abound, but I want her physically close to me where I can hug her and cuddle up on the sofa with her, and surround myself with her presence – more than just her voice on the other end of a receiver.

This year, I think in anticipation of that time, she gave me my Christmas Gift early. It was no ordinary gift. When she handed it to me I was like a giddy little girl. It was an entire basket full of perfectly wrapped gifts. An Advent Gift she said. One present to be opened every day until Christmas, beginning December 1st.

I know this is the place where I’m supposed to say ‘it was just a gift getting to see her for 4 hours’ in the city where we met and had a quick lunch together, but the fact is that it WAS really exciting to be handed an entire basket of presents and be told they were just for me.

It’s Christmas and I am a Mom. Nothing is EVER just for me! I spend months making sure everything is ‘just for others’.

So here I am handed a basket full of pretty presents … one to open every day starting the first of December … you better believe I’m a giddy school girl at that prospect!

And because I know my best friend so well, I’m vibrating with anticipation because I know each gift was meticulously chosen with me in mind by someone who knows me like no one else. Now THIS is exciting shit!

So I drive home on a November day, after a long four hour lunch with my bestie, basket safely tucked in the back of the Subaru.

When I come through the door, basket in hand, my kiddos are home and they look up at the basket. They know I’ve seen Norah and are naturally expecting the basket to be the ‘family’ gifts that we always exchange. And of course those family gifts are in the back of the Subuaru too … but I am quick to inform them (with perhaps a cat-ate-the-canary smile on my face) that these are all ‘just for me’. AND that I get to open one each and every day until Christmas starting December 1st.

Oh.

They don’t say it, but you can see the wheels turning in their heads.

Just for Mom?

All those presents?

Oh.

So I sit my basket down next to the armoire in the living room. It’s only then that I really have the chance to take a good look at it. Each gift has a number on it. And the numbers aren’t just written on. They are fancy stickers placed on thick parchment like paper and placed on each gift. Every gift is painstakingly wrapped, and looking at them I would be happy to open just one. But I get to open 24! 

I get a twinge of worry that she has spent too much on me. But I know her and we are both really good at being reasonable over Christmas. She promised me she didn’t go over our usual amount – that it was like a long drawn out stocking. So I quickly drop that feeling of guilt and concentrate on my pretty present.

December 1st is fourteen days away. I’m like a little kid again waiting for Christmas Day. Only I don’t have to wait that long! Inside I’m a little embarrassed by how excited I am, but trust me that embarrassment disappears as the days go by and I’m run off my feet with Holiday to-do lists, and I really remember how much I do for every one else during the preparation of Christmas.

So there the basket sits. For fourteen days in the living room.

And then December 1st arrives. And what happens then, and over the next 24 days is a very unexpected side effect … and is, for me, and for my family, a gift in and of itself.

That morning I get up and come down stairs. It’s a particularly crazy day. I have a Board Mtg at work, Mark has a Volleyball Tournament, Megan has Piano and a test at school, Craig is away for work so I’m on my own. I’m running around making lunches, getting everything and everyone ready for another pretty normal day at the Wilkies. 

And then the kids look at me and say … with these excited looks of anticipation on their faces … “Mom!!!! It’s December 1st!!!!!! You get to open your first gift from Aunt Norah today!”

And I have to admit. I was a little taken aback at their excitement. Because this was not excitement ‘for them’ at all. They KNEW nothing in those packages were family related. Nothing for the minors in the family. And as for ‘their’ Advent ‘gift’, well – ever since they were young they only ever got those Advent Calendars that were like $1 from Walmart, with the dinky little chocolates (if you can call them chocolate) smaller than the size of a dime. 

So no. This wasn’t excitement for them. This was excitement they had for me. They were excited for me alone. They wanted to watch me open it, and had comments on what it was and what a great gift it was for me.

And so it went. Every day until Christmas Eve. They would excitedly remind me of my Advent gift for the day, and hoped I wouldn’t open it without them there.

And a few days into this selfishly lovely routine I realized what a beautiful side effect this gift my BFF gave me actually had.

For my kids got to see, in a very unique and somehow tangible way, how very much someone else loved their mother. And even better … someone not related to me. Someone who didn’t ‘have’ to love me. Someone who wasn’t related to them either.

They got to see the care and thoughtfulness put into something for their Mom … who is always the one ‘giving’ in their lives … always the one running and driving and doing and keeping it all together for them. They, as children, are always the centre of attention. They rarely get to see me receive anything except on days that ‘I’m supposed to’. And from someone I’m ‘supposed to’. No one ever does anything for Mom ‘just because’.

And that was pretty cool. For them to be so unbelievably excited just for ‘me’ each day; during a season that is so focused on them as children. For them to visually ‘see’ my worth through another’s eyes. To see how much time someone took to shop and wrap and prepare and think of ‘me’. For them to see me in a new way, and not just as a Mom.  

To see someone’s love for me in such a tangible and consistent way.

It was a very unexpected side effect of a wonderful gift … that was a gift in and of itself. And the entire experience, the gift and the side effect, made my Holiday that much brighter.

It was a gift I will never forget.

A Broken Christmas

It’s the end of November and I’m unpacking my Christmas totes, asking myself how another year could have come and gone so quickly.  Wasn’t I just doing this? I’m pretty sure I was.  No really. I was standing in this same spot just yesterday.  Sigh.  What is it with time as we get older?

As the kids and I unwrap decorations from crumpled newspaper, Megan comes across a set of white ceramic angels.  As she unwraps them she laughs and says “Oh Mom – the angels got broken again this year.”  I look at her and smile.  Sure enough, once again the girl angel’s wings are hanging on by a thread and the end of the boys’ has come completely off.  She sets them down with care and I remind her how long we have had them, smiling.

It’s then that I look around at our Christmas decorations and realize how many of these things have been broken over the years.

There’s the Rudolph Snow Globe.  Mark loved this snow globe so much when he was younger.  It’s musical and plays – obviously – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  This was his favourite song, bar none when he was a little boy.  I remember when he was three I showed it to him for the first time.  He was enamoured by the falling snow and the song playing in the background.  He asked me if he could pick it up himself.  “Of course you can honey.  Just be careful.”

On the inside of two minutes it went crashing to the ground.  The glass shattered and water and fake snow were everywhere.  He cried and cried.  But I told him it didn’t matter. Rudolph still sang and was still intact. And we could watch the snow fall outside as it played.

I also unpack four ceramic letters that spell the word snow.  We have always put them in our hallway, and promptly each year our dog Ginger rushes to the door to greet a holiday guest, wags her very large tail, and knocks over one, or two, or on a good day even three of those letters.  And every year we glue them back together, and laugh at her enthusiasm.

And there’s the wine glass.  My best friend has always been one of my very favourite people to shop for. I adore seeking out a perfect gift for her.  Nine years ago when I moved away from her and came back to Nova Scotia I found this stunningly decorated Christmas wine glass. I bought one for her and one for me. I sent it to her with a note to open before Christmas, saying that I had bought the exact same one and we could think of each other doing Christmassy things while drinking out of the same glass and we wouldn’t seem so far away from each other.    Off went hers safely to be opened.  While mine fell off a kitchen window sill and broke its stem completely in half.  Sigh.  But I didn’t part with it – instead I put in a small glass container and use it as a candle holder.  It really is beautiful.

Then there’s the hand-painted mug we bought when the kids were born for Santa to drink his milk out of.  It matches a cookie plate.  I looked high and low for this set and adore it.  Sadly the mug got put in the dishwasher by a well meaning guest one year and now says “Mil or anta”.  We keep saying we are going to paint the other letters back on. It never happens.  But we laugh when we open it and put it in its place of honour in the kitchen none the less.

There’s also the broken red star on top of the green ceramic Christmas tree that sits in my living room. The one my Mom gave me 10 years ago, which is the same one I grew up with in my own home when I was younger. How I loved that tree when I was a kid. Putting the lights in it each year.  And how I love having it in my living room now with my own kids as they put lights in it – broken star and all.

And of course there’s the giraffe ornament that’s missing his legs because one of the kids little trees they keep in their room fell over; the Disney ornaments that came unglued; the eye that has fallen off a Christmas stuffed animal; and the VHS tape that went hurling down the stairs with our favourite Christmas movie on it.

And finally there’s those angels. Those white ceramic angels.  We’ve had those with us the longest.  Before the kids.  Even back before we got married, when we were living together.  They were the one thing that always followed us from back then. No matter where we moved – what house or three Provinces we were living in, those angels followed us around and made their appearance from dusty boxes each year.

I remember thinking they are “us”. Me and Craig.  They are leaning over getting ready to kiss each other. I remember when they were brand new and perfect and so white.  I remember when they got their first mark on them. It was black and wouldn’t come off. At first I was devastated but then I thought “they are like us … just a little worn”.

Then one of their wings broke, and I thought that’s okay. We are still together even though we don’t look like we used to.  And then another wing broke off.  And each year we would get the angels out and each year Craig would glue them back together.  And each year I would think how they resembled us more and more – a marriage of many years with its hard knocks and ups and downs.

How naive we were. Little did we know what hard knocks were back then.  The years went by and I remember one of those years Craig forgot to fix them. And although I could have done it myself I just didn’t have the energy to.  But then another year passed and back they got glued together.

I remember even one year her head fell off.  I’m laughing hysterically as I write this but it’s true. If you look at her closely you will see where her head was glued back on.  Honestly. This makes me belly laugh with such irony and somehow such joy!  We thought we knew what rough times were. We didn’t have a clue. But we do now. Do we ever.

I look at them now and once again they need repair. They need a little TLC and time and effort. But they always have.  And most of the time … not all of the time …. but most of the time, we make sure they are taken care of.  Maybe not like they should be – maybe not like if we took them to a repair shop – but in the best way we can, and could, during the times we were dealt.

So yes – it’s another year. And we will fix those angels up again and give them the care they need. Someday we may take the time to superglue them and put more care into what they look like and clean them up a bit more. But for now, we will to put them up on the shelf and be so thankful that they are still hanging out together, roughly in piece, to remind how far we have come.  To remind us of our perseverance, fortitude and love.

I am so thankful for all the parts of my broken Christmas.  Each one holds a strong memory and teaches the four of us that things don’t have to be perfect to be treasured.  I love that we don’t surround ourselves with pretty Christmas things that can’t be touched.  I love that we still put all of these broken things out, and in my less than perfect home they fit right in.  I think they are all my most prized Christmas possessions …  and I’ll stack my broken Christmas up against someone’s pristinely decorated perfect Christmas any day of the week.