It was Christmas 1977, as I woke up in my parents’ bed alone sometime in the middle of the night. I looked around the room and got up to open the bedroom door to walk into to a small dark living room filled with smoke. The song “Saturday Night Special” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was playing on the record player very loudly throughout the house. Multi-colored Christmas lights were bright and lit the room. A tall, slender man in a tank top shirt, jeans and cowboy boots sat at the table with several other men. He had glasses and wavy hair and pretty white teeth. He laughed as he smoked his cigarette. As I walked closer to the man, I looked at the picture tattoos on his arms. I saw orange juice on the table and asked “daddy can I have some juice”. In my three year old mind, I had no fear. There were many beer bottles on the table and orange juice glasses. My father couldn’t hear me call to him. Several times I said “Daddy!” I got the juice and took a drink. It burned my mouth and throat and another man took the juice from me. That was no regular juice! My dad didn’t notice me, probably because of the yelling and the music. In the next few seconds it became a blur. People started fighting and bottles were knocked over along with the kitchen table. The glass sugar bowl hit me and fell on my bare feet shattering into many pieces. I can still remember the grains of sugar between my toes, as I looked down at the broken glass. There was so much yelling, music and loud drunk man voices. I became very afraid and started crying. I remember the Christmas lights seemed to sparkle through my tears. This was the first memory of Christmas in my mind. It was one of the few Christmas holidays that I spent with my own father.
Throughout the years there were a few Christmas holidays that my mother, step father, aunts and uncles were drinking and fighting and making up. It was the 70’s! I suppose many Indian kids went through these kinds of days. Our parents were young and living their lives, no one can blame them for that. They grew out of those partying days eventually to be mature adults who disciplined us and made us wear cowboy clothes and plaid attire. Why couldn’t we have a Michael Jackson glove, remember the one that you wear on one hand? I’m sure if I asked why now 30 years later, the answer would still be “BECAUSE”. Nonetheless, my parents grew up.
Don’t get me wrong we had many wonderful holidays. The best holidays were spent with my grandparents at church and being in the Christmas plays. We also ate that beloved Christmas candy. You know the kind that is swirly and pretty? You enjoy eating it because you only get it one time a year. It makes you feel like you’re getting something special. Don’t forget the candy canes, and mixed nuts that you cracked yourself! There was so much fun and satisfaction in cracking the pecans! Sometimes grandpa or uncle had to crack the shells for us. I remember Bing Crosby playing at grandma and grandpas house. The winter time Christmas weather was a cold, bitter, snowy blend. The warmth of our grandparents’ house and the glow of the Christmas tree brought a feeling of security, love and happiness.
Presents? Presents were few. We got socks, underwear, gloves and hat and a deck of cards or something but there was always a good meal to eat. As me and my cousins listened to grandma tell stories about baby Jesus. I could imagine little baby Jesus being born in the cold, snowy manger with sheep, goats and cows around him. Poor baby Jesus, I felt sorry for him because there was no room in the inn. That made an impact on me. Being a young child and realizing that somebody in the world didn’t have a place to sleep seemed frightening. Luke 2:7. “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn”.
We kids were glad for our grandma and grandpa and their warm home. I was glad to be with grandma and grandpa and for a fuzzy blanket as grandma tucked the blanket around my feet. These were the good times.
Holidays can bring up so many memories for people. Besides the emotional stress holidays cause, the season can also put pressure on families to provide materialistic goods they may not be able to afford. People take out loans to buy gifts for their kids to bring them happiness. The pressure to buy, buy, and buy and to give, give, and give is high. Many people become depressed around the holidays. They look back at their past experiences and cannot let go of those times. Holidays drudge up old memories of the good, the bad and the ugly. The bad times are the ones harder to let go of and deal with. Sometimes this can lead to “holiday beer” instead of “holiday cheer”. How can we cope?
People also grieve the loved ones that have passed on or relationships lost. We miss our loved ones and during this time of year. It can be a lonely time for many of our Indian people. Family gatherings don’t always turn out like we plan them. Why do we feel as though we must force ourselves to spend the holidays with family members and people we do not get along with? While the holiday season finances can be overwhelming, all of this can add more stress to our lives.
As Indian people, many times we don’t have the finances to celebrate Christmas like dominant society. We don’t decorate our houses with lights and wreaths and stockings and a Santa and sleigh in our front lawn. We can barely pay our light bills so how can we afford to pay for all the extra electricity of Christmas lights?
The true meaning of Christmas is lost in all the media hype and business advertisement of toys and sales and holiday décor. Indian people are naturally gift givers. We give away all year long in appreciation of those who we feel have impacted us in a good way. Indian people give small tokens of appreciation or expressions of their feelings by way of blankets, shawls or a few dollars.
Homemade gifts of drawings, art, and beadwork, sewing and baked goods are beautiful gifts. Although Santa and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer is the face of Christmas now days, Christmas is really about Jesus Christ birth. This is a time to serve and be thankful to Maheo, our Creator, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the blessings he bestowed upon us.
Some ways to cope and help alleviate stress during the holidays are:
• Not putting pressure on yourself to provide materialistic gifts and get caught up in the advertising hype.
• Spending time with family members you enjoy being around.
• Put your boxing gloves down and refuse to fight with relatives if you must be with them.
• Forgiveness of past wrongs and experiences. Forgiving those who have wronged you can decrease negative thoughts and anxiety.
• Acceptance that life and people are not perfect and focusing on positive attitudes such as generosity, fun, happy, and love and kindness that you experience in your life.
• Help the less fortunate. You may not be able to “buy” items but giving gently used items to Goodwill or neighbors is also useful.
• Being alone is not necessarily bad or negative. Loneliness is an attitude. Many people choose to live alone and enjoy their lives. If you are alone during the holidays, some things you can do is, invite friends over, start your own tradition, go to the movies, go to a powwow, volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter/substance abuse center, visit a nursing home.
• Pray, meditate and take time for you and the Creator.
• Go to Native American Church Meeting, Sweat or Christmas eve church service.
• Remember loved ones who passed on. Give yourself time to mourn.
• Give quality time to the ones you love, enjoy your friends and family because life is precious.
• Do what you enjoy!
• Avoid alcohol, value sobriety.
• If you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, then SEEK HELP! Call a mental health provider, preacher, ceremonial man, cousin, friend or coworker! Reach out and express your feelings to someone and TALK!
For me, Christmas traditions have come and gone since 1977. In my life I have realized my first memory can’t be changed. I still remember it, but I can not do anything about it. Life is too short to hold grudges and my parents never claimed to be faultless.
If your childhood Christmas seasons or your past was not picture perfect, you must focus on making yourself happy in life now rather than focusing on the wrongs of yesterday. You shouldn’t spend one more blessed day of your life being angry at the things you can’t change.
Thinking back to the days with my grandparents, in their home and church, I cherish those memories and feelings. Those were some of the greatest memories of my life. Those days weren’t great because of money and gifts. They were great because of love and security.
In my adult life, I control my Christmas holidays. I don’t need expensive gifts or to appease the one thousand relatives I have in the world! It’s all up to me and my attitude and the old or new traditions I choose. I can have a great Christmas the way I like it, and so can you! I wish everyone a safe, happy and very Merry Christmas and God bless us all!