Jody Vance

Finding Spirit – by Jody

Image: Jasmin Awad / EyeEm

Christmas became blurred, for me, in 1998 — when my grandmother passed.

My Mormor represented the magic that comes with the Holiday Season.  There was incredible comfort in her holiday routines, how it smelled, how it tasted, how it felt.

From the roaring pine-filled wood fireplace to the oranges under the tree. The Danish cuisine with a dash of Yugoslav. It was all so lovely….loving….so familiar.  When she left us, the magic left Christmas for me.

Of course we celebrate Christmas, I want that magic for my son.  We have an outstanding family, great people.  I’m a rather stellar gift giver, if I do say so myself, and am well known as the truly sentimental one of our lot.

So much of what represented “The Christmas Spirit” was fostered by Mormor.  I knew every ornament on her tree, the flavour of her every danish delight, the scents given off by mountains of baking.

I always looked so forward to Jedo putting the farm yard animals and fencing up under the tree, surrounded by massive oranges.  Who does that?? He did, she did, I did.

Yes, since her passing I certainly do try to emulate these traditions — traditional dinners with “her” appetizers and all — but without them, the hearts beating, as much as I want it I can’t seem to find the magic.

Being my super sentimental self, void of Mormor creating Mormor’s traditions, I find it hard to fake it.  Often I feel like Debbie Downer for my holiday dread.  The two month lead-up sees me stressed, often grumpy, and kind of empty.  My Mom, Step-Dad and Dad are not anti-christmas…..but let’s just say the gift buying for their grandson falls to me.

My melancholy is rooted in me missing the familiar family ornaments that sit in a dusty box in some storage space, the cheap little plastic icicle, the clip on birds from the 70’s.  They aren’t fancy, they were what Christmas mean to me when it was just my mom, brother and I – before we blended our family and added to those.  All sit in a box in storage, for decades, why? Good question.  Believe me, I’ve asked for them.  “Too much work” or a division between siblings that needs to happen first.  Our folks don’t really “do” Christmas.  (They winter away — Maui for years, now Palm Springs.  This year they came up two weeks prior to Christmas to “celebrate” at “the club” — not really Christmas as much as convenient?) So it’s “work” for them to sort this stuff — the stuff that represents Christmas for me.

My family, traditionally, has never really been very gift motivated. Instead we garnered great joy during the dance of preparation and the “one” gift each under the tree.

A happy memory for me was the most magical gift I gave to Mormor in the early 90’s.  It was, of all things, a $5 fleece blanket I grabbed from Le Chateau, randomly — an add on to her gift.  Well, that burgundy blanket ended up being part of her everyday — it lay across her lap nightly for years as she watched Jeopardy — even her last day, in hospital, that blanket brought comfort.  It was November 11th, 1989.

It has been a long, long, time since I truly felt the spirit of Christmas — until last night.

Brian, Brady and I, for the last 4 years, have joined our dear friends for Hanukkah to learn more about their Jewish traditions.  My best friend Alyssa – a woman who knows me, gets my soul and loves me exactly the way I am – wanted me to understand the magic of her Jewish faith. I love her for wanting us to take part of those traditions.  Perennially it’s a warm gathering, a beautiful family dinner, with deliciously decedent oily food with a few small gifts to follow.  We love it.  Look forward to it.

Last night we had our early celebration. (Hanukkah falls over Christmas Eve and beyond on the calendar this year.)  We ate, laughed, lit the candles, and then moved to gifts.  This is where my holiday spirit was returned to me…..

Alyssa and her husband Doyle opened our gift to them…

Doyle opens first.

Then we opened their gift for us…..

Family Crew Tribe Clan Squad

Cue the magic.

Yup, we had each been inspired to give exactly what we received….in this world filled with “things”. These pillows, with words of connection and family on them, were a much needed tonic — dare I say: The Spirit of Christmas.

Alyssa and I both have travelled the world this past year — and yet — we both found the “perfect something” for each other at the “end of the street”.

This happy accident, or destiny or whatever, has reminded me that it’s important to see the joy of the holidays in who “gets” you. If people are pulling you down, stressing you out, creating holiday chaos — step back from them. Often we can find ourselves trapped in toxicity.  Look beyond.  Be YOU.

Doyle and Alyssa have three daughters. Leyla, the middle child who is nothing short of genius, decided to  share a quote with me that she recently authored,  it’s very poignant.

I asked if she might write it down for me — so that I could put it up in my home — as a reminder.  You want magic? Here it is …’s also my New Years’ Resolution.  I’ve learned a lot in 2016.

Merry Christmas.

Quote by Leyla.

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  • Reply Shannon Vrlak December 20, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    That is so lovely and truly the magic of what this season is all about, thank you for sharing…glad you found your Christmas spirit…Mormor would be smiling. Merry Christmas!

  • Reply barbara December 20, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much this resonated with me. For I, too, have lost the magic of Christmas. Blended families, lost grandparents (I lost my lovely bff grandpa on Nov.10.82) and aging parents that have no interest in tradition. I try my best to keep traditions alive or start new ones, but I seem to be losing an uphill battle. I LOVE that you have again found the magic. I have hope that I will be able to find it again one day…perhaps in an unexpected form.

    • Reply Jody Vance December 20, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      Perhaps a bit of my new-found spirit can wash over you? That would make me even happier. I still don’t have the feelings I had even 17 years ago, however, I do have that sentimental piece of my heart working toward a new sense of spirit. Thank you for reading!

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