A Deviant Christmas

You do what you have to do. 

Last night, I watched the Christmas episode of the popular TV comedy “Modern Family.” For various reasons this year, the Pritchett-Dunphy clan is not going to be able to be together on December 25th so they decide at the last minute to celebrate their family Christmas on the 16th. But since they are totally unprepared, the predictable chaos that is necessary for a hilarious segment ensues and it’s a disaster. But in the end, they do have their Christmas celebration, albeit in an unconventional style.

Earlier in the week, I read a commentary piece in the paper about a woman who couldn’t face this Christmas at her ancestral home. Her mother and most of the members of that generation had died and the writer found the prospect of trying to recreate the traditional family gathering with so many absences just too painful. So this year she is intentionally going to create a new tradition with just her husband and children together on Christmas Day in their own home.

I found some comfort in these variations from the Christmas norm and some affirmation that I’m not totally crazy myself—I’m not alone in celebrating a deviant Christmas. 

My partner Bill and I were together as a couple for thirty-three years before he was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died two weeks later. During those many years together, we hosted innumerable Christmas dinners and other special family celebrations in our home. Sometimes there were too many of us to sit around the table so we would do it buffet style. As the years progressed and family members had competing obligations, the numbers dwindled. For most of the last few years, it was just Bill and I hosting my parents and his parents.

Then, in an intolerably short period of time, they all died.

Bill was the last of our Christmas remnant to die. And his death was the most unexpected. All our parents were getting well on in years. Bill was still a young man in my eyes. And as difficult as it was losing our parents, the trauma was of a totally different magnitude when I lost him, my partner, the love of my life.

To cope on Christmas Day, I have created my own new tradition. I make a turkey dinner as best as I can since Bill was always the main cook in our household. I follow the stuffing recipe, make my own cranberry and orange sauce, cook the bird following assiduously the instructions in The Joy of Cooking, and carve it according to Martha Stewart’s ingenious suggestions.

The table is set with the good china, the polished silverware, and the crystal wine glasses and water tumblers.

Two place settings.

And I eat alone. I spend the day alone. I am with Bill, alone.

I cannot imagine trying to be social on that day by accepting one of the invitations that are offered to me by solicitous friends or from what remains of my more extended family. I couldn’t tolerate faking a convivial demeanor and I don’t want to be a downer at their table.

And so I do what I have to do. And for me what I have to do to cope without Bill is to be alone on Christmas Day. 

That’s my Christmas, for now at least. Deviant for sure. But so is my life these days.

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Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at http://DavidGHallman.com

Both books can be ordered through your local bookstore or on-line retailers including  http://amazon.comhttp://barnesandnoble.com


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The picture below is of my Christmas table centerpiece. The six white poinsettias are in memory of Bill, my mom and dad, Bill’s parents, and my younger brother who died six months before Bill.




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7 responses to “A Deviant Christmas

  1. Everyone has their own traditions in widowhood. I have certain things that I do simply because I want to have remembered Kevin doing them- like buying myself a new plant on anniversaries and birthdays. Do what you need to do to get through and take care.

  2. Bill, thanks for sharing your new tradition. When life changes drastically we need to find a new normal. Sometimes centering ourselves in that is the best that can be done. Wishing you the best holiday possible. Bob

  3. What a beautiful post, with two important points. First, that as we age – or just stuff happens – we need to have the courage to create our own traditions. Sometimes the most disastrous thing we can do is try to re-create what was someone else’s tradition. I’m amazed by how many traditions our family has created – out of necessity. Second, and most importantly for you, any way you choose to spend the holidays is fine. You have to do what’s right for you. Those choices may change as time goes on, but accept them, celebrate and own them. They’re yours. Holiday wishes back at you!

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I’m sorry for your loss, and your love for Bill shines through. I like the idea of having a holiday meal where you set his place for him. It’s a beautiful tribute to your relationship

  5. uvmer

    I have a hard time even facing Christmas. Our tree was a collection of ornaments that represented 28 years of memories. I can’t bring them out. Our next to last Christmas was spent in Mass General a few days removed from brain surgery. Our last Christmas was spent praying that it wouldn’t be our last one. I find no joy in the day now….one that I so loved. I wish I could be alone, but have some family that would not allow it. Like for you, being social on that day takes an incredible amount of energy, and I find myself angry that everyone else is happy and I am not. Not good feelings to have on Christmas. I will think of you David, on Christmas day and hope that we both can get through. Warmest regards….

  6. What a profoundly touching post,David, such a lovely tribute to those you hold so dear. We all have to find our own way through the haze of grief and loss. Thank you for sharing and showing us all how it is possible to get through by honoring the memories of your loved ones & keeping their spirits alive. Blessings to you and best wishes for a New Yesr filled with hope.

  7. I can’t even think about losing the one I love, your blog just makes me want to cry.If you want to spend Christmas alone with Bill I respect that.God Bless You and Happy New Year David 🙂

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