From the editor: Thinking of all the lives and livelihoods lost this holiday season
My mother is a first-generation immigrant to the United States, and we spend a lot of time celebrating her Swiss heritage during the holidays.
Samichlaus, the Swiss version of Santa, would visit on Dec. 6. The doorbell would magically ring, and our stockings would be sitting on the doorstep bursting with cookies and candy — and always a toothbrush.
Then on Christmas Eve, we would open our gifts.
When I was a child, it was excruciating to make it through the day. My siblings and I would lie by the tree and hold each gift, maybe shaking it a little, and ask our parents when it would be time to open presents. But we knew the drill: First was a drawn-out dinner of finger foods, then we would light the candles on the tree and sing an endless amount of Christmas songs in English and German. Finally the Christmas cookies would appear, and after what seemed like an eternity, it would be time.
Only one gift would be opened at once, and the person who just opened a gift would choose a package for someone else — a tradition we continue to this day.
Once all the wrapping was shredded and all the boxes were scattered across the floor, we would stay up until midnight playing with our new toys.
A week later was Silvester, a German New Year’s Eve celebration. My cousins and I would recite a German children’s poem to our grandfather, demanding that he give us all his money or we would pull on his hair. In response, he would throw obscene amounts of pocket change to the floor while we all scrambled to collect the dimes and quarters.
This year will be different for so many reasons.
My grandfather died in July after testing positive for the novel coronavirus as part of an outbreak at his care facility. He lived a long life at age 92, but so many others who have died this year didn’t get that same chance.
When you’ve experienced a loss, every day is difficult. But that grief becomes even more pronounced over the holidays.
Many of my family’s holiday traditions have changed over the years. And as I get older, lighting the candles on our tree each Christmas Eve has become one of my favorite traditions.
After the candles are lit, the lights are turned out and we finish singing, we take turns blowing out each candle for someone we’re thinking about.
Oftentimes, the candles are for friends, relatives and pets who have died, but we also blow them out for people who are struggling during the holidays: a family who lost their son to suicide, a co-worker whose husband died in an accident, a friend who is battling an aggressive form of cancer.
Other candles are for groups of people who’ve had an extremely difficult year: the front-line health care workers who’ve sacrificed so much, the homeowners who lost everything to wildfires, the many thousands of people who no longer have their jobs or businesses.
The tradition is always emotional, with family members choking up or crying as they talk about a particular person or cause that is important to them.
So many people have experienced a loss of some type this year, and amid the pandemic, we’re asked not to gather with our families, which will make coping with that loss even more difficult. Many people will be without warm hugs, home-cooked meals and the joy of being with family this Christmas.
If you know someone who is alone for the holidays, please reach out. Something as simple as a text can let them know you care.
If you’re struggling and you need help, please ask. Again, this can be as simple as a text. Our community has so many wonderful resources for those who need a helping hand, but here are three very important ones to know:
- If your life is in danger, call or text 911
- If you’re in crisis, call Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255
- If you’re looking for other types of mental health support, head to BuildingHopeSummit.org/get-help to find the mental health navigation tool
After the holidays, look for the next installment of the Faces of Hopes series, a partnership between Building Hope Summit County and the Summit Daily News. The upcoming series of weekly stories will focus on well-known community members who have struggled with their mental health — everything from depression to substance use to anxiety — and decided to share their inspirational stories of healing and recovery.
If their stories are any indication, it can and will get better. Merry Christmas.
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