Writers on Writing: 18 Blogs of Christmas with Liz Mugavero
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…right?
There’s a lot of pressure at this time of the year. Pressure to buy the right gifts, to go to the right parties, to host a party, to have the right food, to be full of Christmas cheer. And while most of us recognize that it is a really wonderful time of the year, we have to be honest, too, about the challenges of the season.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the holidays for a long time. When I was a kid, I was blessed – my mother made the holidays memorable and happy. Our house was decorated to the max, we went on fun holiday outings to visit Santa’s Village, we made special holiday food, and there was never any shortage of presents under the tree. It did seem to be one of those times when family (mostly) came together and was happy. The holiday season felt good. And isn’t that what we’re all after, really? That feeling?
As I got older, I tried to recreate that feeling in my own life, my own homes. I had to have the perfect tree, the right cookie recipes, the best gifts. The decorations had to be up the weekend after Thanksgiving, the lights had to be strung outside. The same Christmas music my father played when I was a kid had to be on the stereo. Until the year I realized that I was fixated on the perfect holiday setting because something else – something huge – was missing. That feeling. My house could look perfect, but it didn’t mean it was a home.
After that year, everything changed. I learned to focus less on appearances and more on tuning in to my own feelings. I still loved to decorate and celebrate, but there was less of a need for everything to be perfect. I’d found a new feeling of comfort and home – and I didn’t need things to create it. Surrounded by happy dogs and cats (and fish!) seemed like the perfect holiday.
But in the midst of even more change this year, I’ve once again been struggling with the question of finding that Christmas feeling – especially when it seems like a real stretch. The more I stressed about it, the further away it seemed. I’d resigned myself to a less-than-perfect holiday, and resolved to simply hibernate until it was over.
Then the other day I was in New York City, heading to the office, when I saw him. The homeless man and his beagle who sit outside Grand Central Station every afternoon. I’ve been seeing him for more than a year, since I started this new job. He’s one of the people who tugs at the heartstrings. Youngish, always reading a book, loves his dog. This year, his dog is riding around in a stroller, which I love. Last year at Christmas, I took him a bag of gifts – clothes and socks for him, food and a jacket for his dog. I remembered how it felt to offer him that bag in the middle of the busy sidewalk as people rushed past, not even offering them a second glance. He smiled and said thank you, and I remember wondering if that was the only gift he got last year.
And that’s when I really remembered how to find that special Christmas feeling. Do something good for someone else and it’s impossible to keep it away. Even when your own life seems empty, or less than perfect, or stressful, or hard, the simple act of giving something – even if it’s a smile or kind word – is the answer.
This weekend, I’ll be putting together their gift bag. I think the beagle could use a new coat to go with his new ride. And I’ll be feeling all those Christmas feels.
Hope all your holidays are merry.
Liz Mugavero is the author of the Agatha-nominated Pawsitively Organic Gourmet Pet Food Mysteries Kneading to Die, A Biscuit, A Casket, and The Icing on the Corpse. Murder Most Finicky released in January 2016. As you can imagine, her canine and feline rescues demand the best organic food and treats around. She is a board member of Sisters in Crime New England and a member of Sisters in Crime National, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers’ Association. She lives in Connecticut. Find her at www.lizmugavero.com.