My big decision this year is how late to stay open at my shop on Christmas Eve. I have no one to spend Christmas Eve with, so spending it at the shop is a great option. If I pushed, I could make plans. But this year I feel like winging it. This is my fourth Christmas as a widow and each year brings something different. Each Christmas leaves an impression unlike the year before.
My husband died in May. In December there were so many old memories, but I was grabbing at life as quickly as I could, and Christmas brought magic, not tears. No I didn’t go see family. For twenty-five years we trecked to North Carolina for Christmas with his mother, back to the house for a day, then a trip down to see my mother in Florida, for New Year’s Eve. Two dogs went with us. Packing them in the van was the hardest. Bigger dogs needed room. I’d make a platform in front of the seats with luggage covered in traveling quilts. Both dogs could stretch out looking ahead, fresh air hitting them from the front, keeping the dog puke factor down. Going over a huge mountain top meant one of the two would most likely get car sick. They loved the holidays and travel. I loved having them with us. My husband hated dog puke in the van.
The first Christmas on my own, I still had my two dogs. We stayed home. Mother and mother-in-law had their own plans. I refused to travel. I had lunch with my bff on Christmas day. She is a trained chef – now that was a Christmas dinner to remember. At seven I had a date. I tried dating too soon after my husband died. I wrote about it in my book. But I needed to be out in life to accept my new life alone. I met my date at the only local pub open on Christmas night. We drank coffee and talked about everything. His remark to me, which sums up how well I dated then, “Oh Barbara, Barbara, what are we going to do with you?” Somehow my husband got me, but no other male has since. But all and all, it was a lovely Christmas. We jumped in his huge black truck and went on a tour of lights in the surrounding neighborhoods. The evening ended with us eating pancakes at The Waffle House at 10 PM. He dropped me back at my car and I swear I heard him yell, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night”, as he waved goodbye and disappeared into the night. We did not go out again, but he was my own Santa sharing Christmas memories to brighten my night.
My second Christmas, it was time for family. I flew my mother up from Florida and we hugged and laughed around the Christmas tree. By now the dogs had changed, as one had left me for dog heaven, but I had adopted three rescue dogs. So we had four dogs to make it a rollicking holiday. Friends came to visit, Each had a dog for their lap. They all loved my mother. Late at night she and I relaxed in our jammies and watched romantic Christmas movies. A Christmas full of love with my mother by my side.
Last Christmas I have trouble remembering. I had just signed a lease to open a shop the day after I launched my one and only copy of an online dog magazine. My dog number had grown to six. I didn’t travel. I didn’t date. I did see my bff. But I spent a quiet holiday, content with my dogs, sitting by the Christmas tree, making plans to open my storefront in January. My not being able to remember the details tells me two things, it was quiet and I accepted being on my own at the holidays. It was unremarkable in one way, and very remarkable in another. I was comfortable in my own skin being in my home with my dogs on Christmas.
This Christmas, I am the laziest of all. My shop is brimming with decorations. My house is a bit lackluster for the holidays.
I am in the Christmas spirit. You can’t have a shop full of twinkling lights and customers coming in wishing you “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” without catching the merriment. I have a tree decorated for the “Festival of Trees” for charity. I slip little trinkets to folks who come in the shop with their children. “Take a small ornament from the tree. It’s free!” I like to watch the kids trying to decide which they like best. So Christmas at my shop is in full swing.
At home, I have a small silver tinsel tree with tiny white lights that sparkle in the dark. A few of my favorite artist crafted angels sit on my mantel. There are no other decorations, there are no presents under the little tree. I watch my Christmas movies snuggled with five dogs (I lost my old girl this year). There is no big hoopla. No road trips. I have a shop to manage and this is the busiest of times for it.
My shop has brought an unexpected gift this year. New friends. I still don’t have a customer base to bring in cash sales, but I am rich in friendships now. That is something money can’t buy. Perhaps that is what I love best about my shop and why I work hard to keep it. The people I meet fill me with comfort and joy. I am having Christmas dinner with a new single girlfriend this week. (Single friends are hard to come by when you have spent most of your adult life as a couple). Another friend has invited me to Christmas brunch with her family. I will see my bff later on Christmas day.
So much money has gone into my shop this year, I am not worrying about spending it on presents. I have freed myself from the need to spend money on gifts that no one really wants. We’ve all talked about that, and are good with it. What I am giving this year is love. I think that is a gift that is needed daily, not just for the holiday season. I will call my family and friends and tell them, “I love you!” We’ll talk about memories past and look towards the future.
My shop will be open Christmas Eve as late as it needs to be. I don’t expect a last minute customer to run in to buy a gift, but it is possible someone will be visiting the square, alone, trying to fill time on a holiday that is full of families. I’ve been there myself. A new friend at Christmas is the best gift of all. When I lock the door and head home, five dogs will be anxious to see me. I will feed them and start calling my loved ones! I’ll start with my mother. “I love you!” Then my cell will be busy all night.
Barbara Barth, CEO of Life