Chasing Christmas, or the Tinfoil Christmas Tree

Do you have memories of December holidays? I have wonderful memories of childhood Christmases in my grandparents’ mid-Western home town. Crisp, cold, snowy weather; candlelight church service on Christmas Eve; and bells pealing all over town as services let out at midnight… It sounds like a too-perfect movie, but it really happened that way. My most memorable Christmas, though, started in chaos and ended by chasing Christmas across multiple time zones.

Southeast Asia, 1963. Only days before Christmas, the government of Cambodia broke diplomatic relations with the United States after months of wrangling (Chandler, 1991). Americans – my family among them – were not-so-cordially invited to leave the country. We did. But we had no idea if our belongings would follow. After a couple of days in Saigon, we flew to the Philippines on Christmas Eve. We expected to spend days or weeks there, waiting for… whatever came next.

anxiety, stress, Christmas

“Home”: Christmas Eve 1963

You can imagine the level of anxiety and stress we four felt. We were, in a sense, homeless and country-less, housed in a Quonset hut in the sweltering tropics. And it was Christmas. My brother and I decided that it could only feel like Christmas with some sort of tree. We covered a lamp shade with aluminum foil and cut hanging strips as “tinsel.” This simple, silly act infused positive emotions into our family’s sense of life-in-chaos and our feelings of anxiety and stress. (See neuropsychologist Dr. Diane Engelman’s post on how positive emotions can counter holiday stress, How do we Feel Good Despite Additional Stress During the Holidays?)

We settled down to see what life would bring us – and we didn’t have long to wait. The very next day, Christmas #1, we got word that we were leaving that morning to fly to the United States. Christmas #2 was a few hours spent in Honolulu, while the plane took on fuel and food and we stretched our legs. Christmas #3, my family landed in the early evening in San Francisco, with temperatures in the 40s Fahrenheit. We were without coats, wearing only light sweaters, having had multiple Christmases, but without the time to celebrate any of them.

But still, we had received a priceless gift: We were together and safe and back in our home country.

  • What are your memories? Are they perfect or not-so-perfect?
  • If perfect, do those memories give you something warm to hold onto when things get bumpy?
  • And if imperfect, do you see the life- growth that came from the chaos?

Whatever your faith, beliefs, or holidays, I wish you joy and warmth and your equivalent of a “tinfoil Christmas tree”!

Chandler, David P. (1991) The Tragedy of Cambodian History, Chapter 4, “Cambodia Clouds Over.”

Note: In this post, the author, JB Allyn, is not directly or indirectly giving psychological or medical advice. Nor is she prescribing the use of any technique to treat medical, physical, or emotional problems. The author intends only to offer information of a general nature that may assist you in seeking personal growth. If you choose to use any of the information the author presents, she assumes no responsibility for your choices or actions.

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