I thought I would hate a quiet Christmas.
My first quiet Christmas happened in 2005. In the space of twelve months of that year, I set the intention to relocate from Toronto, Ontario to Kelowna, British Columbia. I made two trips in the spring to create the clients I needed to relocate my consulting business. In May, I watched Louise, my best friend since kindergarten, die of a cruel and excruciating cancer. In June, I sold or packed up everything I owned, and hit the road.
Hopped up on Iced Cappuccinos with Coldplay’s Fix You on repeat, I drove 4061 km across Canada with my dog Brandy and my photography equipment packed into my CR-V. All my other possessions followed me in a moving truck. After arriving in Kelowna, I got my consulting business up and running, found a place to board my dog, and flew east beyond Toronto to the Maritimes to attend a photography workshop, planned before the thought of moving to Kelowna came out of the ethers.
On my return “home” from that trip, I became aware the real estate market in Kelowna was about to race beyond my grasp; just like it had in Toronto. I responded by scrambling together my first mortgage and bought the most house I could afford – a dated three bedroom rancher. I took possession the evening of November 25th.
Up until that night, Christmas was the furthest thing from my mind – and that suited me just fine. Christmas in Toronto was always a hustling, bustling time, full of friend and family gatherings, culminating on Christmas Day. The fact that Brandy would be my only company stayed in the recesses of my mind, obscured by busy-ness.
Until I took possession of the house.
My realtor handed me the keys early in the evening, exactly a month before Christmas. I had hoped to get in while it was still light outside, but less than a month before the solstice, daylight is short in Kelowna. Given the hour, and that it had snowed that day, I didn’t bring much with me. Just Brandy, a bottle of water, a shovel, and a folding lawn chair in case I wanted somewhere to sit.
It was unexpectedly cold in the house when I arrived. In a final display of frugality, the departing owners had turned off the furnace. Astonished at being able to see my breath indoors, I found all the light switches and got the furnace and the gas fireplace going.
Brandy wandered through the house, taking it all in. It had a very different vibe than on the sunny September days when I had first seen it. It was built in 1967. Just like me. It was solid, and as I was discovering, much more pleasant in the daylight.
One by one, I took in each room, painted a different – and very bright – colour. In the absence of natural light, the high gloss wood doors and trim, floor to ceiling drapes, pink sinks, tub and toilet in the main bathroom, and the purple sink and toilet off the master bedroom were jarring. An ocean of ill-fitted shag carpet rippled on and on forever. It was a far cry from the welcoming castle I envisioned. I was the owner of a purple toilet. And I was becoming overwhelmed.
I sought relief from the multi-colored chaos in the lawn chair. Unfolding it the relatively muted living room, I plunked myself down and closed my eyes. When I finally dared to reopened them, all I could see was the pattern stitched into the white shag carpet and the gold floor to ceiling curtains. I closed my eyes again and visions of the purple toilet danced through my head.
What the hell have I done?
A once familiar and very unwelcome tightness was developing in my chest. The previous owners had a cat and a dog. Brandy was frothing at the mouth as she searched high and low, unable to find them. My lungs, on the other hand, had detected their remnants. Dander was awakening my long dormant asthma.
It had been years since I carried an inhaler, and I was having none of it. I sprang out of the chair and started opening windows. As the cold fresh air blew in, I silently hoped – and knew – the utilities hadn’t changed over yet. When I got to the giant picture window concealed by the drapes in the living room, I pulled them open the entire way.
That was the moment it hit me that Christmas was on the horizon.
Almost every house on my new street was lit up by colorful strings of light. Combined with the fresh snow, my neighbours’ festive display was both a pleasant and conflicting sight.
It dawned on me that for the first time in my life, I would have a quiet Christmas. More than that, I would be alone.
The strength of the emotions that welled up from deep inside took me by surprise. It wasn’t that I dreaded being on my own. Being in high gear all year, I hadn’t been able see past the next moment, let alone ahead to Christmas.
2005 was a year that had everything: adventure, creativity, dread, grief, goodbyes, loss, new relationships, the stress of restarting a business, and the uncertainty of whether or not I would make a satisfying life thousands of miles away from everyone I loved. All accompanied by a great big mortality check courtesy of Louise.
I don’t remember much about the time in between that night and Christmas, but it must have been busy getting set up in the new house and seeing clients. But I do remember Christmas Day very clearly. Not realizing things didn’t close at Christmas to the same extent they do in Ontario, I had stocked up to stay home. I had enough food and DVDs in the house to last through to the other side of Boxing Day and beyond.
On Christmas morning, I woke up earlier than anticipated and took stock. It was cold in the house because of the open windows, but I could breathe easily. Since I had nowhere to go, I was grateful for that. Instead of my usual rushed smoothie for breakfast and obligatory yanking of Brandy around the street, I made French toast. Then, to her’s delight, I packed Brandy up in the CR-V and took her to Knox Mountain for for a long leisurely walk.
At some point I decided in advance how I would experience my day. Instead of pining for what and who I couldn’t have or do, I kept my focus small. I felt the crunch of the fresh snow under my boots. I smiled and wished Merry Christmas to the cheery strangers passing on the trail. My eyes took in the pristine snow and how it piled up on the benches along the trail. Upon my returned home, I experienced the reward of shoveling my own driveway, feeling an unfamiliar sense of pride in the effort. I made phone calls to my family, three hours deeper into their day, and after a satisfying dinner, I sat on the couch and took out my journal.
I wrote about all of the places I had been that year, and the people I had met. I articulated how, six months into my journey, I was still afraid and somehow still moving forward. A description spilled onto the page of how the sun had burst through the clouds on the last morning of my drive across the country, when I had stopped at Lake Louise and sent a silent prayer for support to my friend. I wrote about how much I missed my family, how grateful I was for my health, and for the new life I had just begun.
I captured how I was able to experience ease and fulfillment on my long walk with Brandy, and being present to what was good in this day.
I wrote those things, and sent gratitude to a sense of the divine I was beginning to experience as a sovereign adult living in an uncertain world. Unknowingly, I wrote so that fifteen years later, I could look back on my first quiet Christmas from a different vantage point. From my desk in my home office in Toronto, I can look back into a time capsule. This time it’s a pandemic creating distance between me, my friends, and family. Much of what I experienced solo in 2005 resonates with what many of us are experiencing this year. A first quiet Christmas.
If you had asked before it happened, I would have told you I would hate a quiet Christmas. I couldn’t foresee how I would grow to love and cherish the stillness, time for reflection, and opportunity to process the year.
Christmas 2005 was more than a quiet one. It was my first Christmas alone. And while I was separated by distance, I was not separate from love.
Merry Quiet Christmas – Happy Hannukah – Joyous Kwanzaa – Happy Solstice and Happy New Year. May your focus be exactly what you need it to be to move through it with grace.