Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca.

I had trouble doing my Christmas decorating this year.

Last year, I found the bins of Christmas decorations Joan had put away in our basement the Christmas before. I set them up as I remembered what she had done.

Joan loved Christmas. She had an eye for the colour, the glitter, the celebration. She hung the ornaments and tinsel on our Christmas tree with an artist’s passion.

Last year I could remember fairly well where she used to put things. How she had arranged them. How she delighted in setting up our manger scene with collections of animals that we had collected all around the world. How she wound up the music boxes in a miniature white chapel and a dark green tree so she could listen to them tinkle their tiny tunes.

This year, though, I couldn’t remember all the details anymore.

I realized that last year I was doing the decorating for Joan. Decorating as she would have done, if she were still alive.

But she’s not. And wherever she is, whatever she is, she won’t be fussing over about how I should display her little dancing mice.

This Christmas, I realize, I’m not decorating for her. I can now only decorate for me.

The COVID-19 threat of Delta and Omicron variants and the closure of crucial highways have forced many families to cancel planned Christmas reunions. People can’t travel, are afraid to travel. Lockdowns eliminate even local get-togethers.

New Year’s Eve parties, for example, seem to belong to the past. It’s hard to pop champagne corks and sing Auld Lang Syne by yourself.

Festive times, family times, are particularly difficult for those who have lost a loved one recently. This is my second Christmas without Joan. I know half a dozen people for whom this will be their first Christmas alone.

One friend is physically incapable now. A friend and hiking companion lost her son earlier this year.

Christmas is difficult too for those who have suffered major changes in life. Children have left home. Families have moved, become strangers in a new neighbourhood. Marriages have broken. Long-time friends can’t remember who you are anymore.

The weather doesn’t help. Overcast skies, blowing snow, cold winds, and bare branches combine to depress our mood.

And it’s the winter solstice. The least sunlight of any time of the year; the longest period of darkness.

Movies and TV shows portray Christmas as a happy time. For many, it’s not.

That’s why, more than 20 years ago, the publishing company I helped to found, then called Wood Lake Books, developed a Blue Christmas service for those who find no

festive joy this time of year. Now called the Longest Night Service, it’s available at 1-800-663-2775 or info@woodlake.com.

First United Church — which serves Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community of poor and often homeless people, for whom Christmas is often just another miserable day — offers a Blue Christmas service every year. It starts at 10 a.m., Wednesday Dec. 22 — Zoom ID 826 6240 483, passcode 547384.

Locally, the United Churches in Kelowna will collaborate for an in-person Blue Christmas service (with masks and distancing) at 1305 Gordon Dr., on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Because of COVID-19 precautions, they request registration in advance, admin@centralokanaganunitedchurch.com.

My own little congregation, Winfield United, will offer a Quiet Christmas service this coming Monday night: 7 p.m. If you’d like to join us: Zoom 812 1846 5502, passcode wuc2021.

I’m sure there are many similar services, but Google let me down. If there aren’t, there should be. Because celebrating a special day without that someone special is painful.

So, as someone asked, is it easier to cry alone? Or to cry in company, with others who are also suffering or alone?

I think healing begins in community.

Attending a Blue Christmas or Longest Night service is one option.

Or you could volunteer at a food bank, filling hampers — better yet, delivering hampers directly to needy families. Or you could help serve a hot meal at a local mission.

You can keep busy during the day. You can occupy yourself with a multitude of small tasks — including preparing the Christmas dinner you always shared together.

But when the darkness falls…

None of those solutions will take away the pain you may be feeling. But they might help you feel less alone.

Best of all, if you can, if it’s safe to do so, invite someone in. Make someone’s longest night a little brighter.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist.