Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Dec. 25, 2000

Tips for surviving Christmas 'without'

By Rev. Deanna Reikow
Faith Presbyterian Church, Silver Lake

Surviving Christmas - how hard can that be?

Granted, all of us would accept survival tips for finding parking places and searching for the perfect gift as shopping days count down.

But while many of us don't think in terms of surviving the holidays because we can't wait for them to get here, others dread this season and are unsure if it is possible to survive.

If one thinks in terms of a Christmas "without," one can begin to glimpse why some people find themselves both overwhelmed and depressed by this joyous season. Imagine "Surviving Christmas without . . .", perhaps without enough food, without a home or warm enough clothes, without any presents or toys, without going home, without your family or friends, or worse yet, without a certain someone who left or died this past year.

Look around you ­ I am sure you can think of someone next door, down the street or at work who can fill in the blank with one of the above answers.

If you, yourself, are someone who can fill in the blank this Christmas, here are a few tips to help you survive the holidays.

Begin by looking within, and then, without. What resources do you have? What essentials do you need to round up or do to make it through Christmas?

You deserve a good Christmas. God's love was sent to everyone ­ receive the gift of Christ and the church into your life.

While it's hard to ask for help, there are hundreds of people around you willing to at least help make Christmas better for you. Some examples of organizations that can help are: shelters, the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, the Food Shelf and your local churches

Seek out the essentials needed to survive the holidays. For those of us who will be sitting across from an empty place at our table, remember that even though Christmas or the holidays will never be the same again, they can be different - not better or worse, really, just different.

I remember the first Christmas without my grandfather. Each year, we had a traditional Scandinavian meal of lutefisk, lefse, turkey and all the fixings. My grandfather had always prepared the lefse and carved the turkey.

That year, my mom took over his job. I was in charge of the side dishes and setting the table. That year, I also was in love with a guy with a Ukranian background and wanted him to feel a part of our family, so I began investigating their cultures and traditions.

I chose three Ukranian traditions: in decorating the table, I used two tablecloths, a white one on the bottom as a sign of the past and to remember our loved ones in heaven; and a more festive top cloth, celebrating the present and those gathered together.

A large white candle was placed in the center of the table. When it was lit, we had a few moments of silence remembering Grandpa and then, we ended with a prayer of thanksgiving for our many blessings.

The last, but unsuccessful new tradition I tried to impress on my family was the appreciation of a colorful cold beet soup ­ borsch.

As for the rest of the meal, it went extremely well ­ except for the lutefisk. While everyone had graciously taken a portion of lutefisk in the past, as Grandpa had encouraged us to eat it; under mom's direction, a rebellion began. Even Grandma didn't take a serving. Needless to say, the cat ate well that night, as even the most devote Norwegian doesn't like left-over lutefisk in the fridge.

While, that year, it was not the most joyous Christmas, it was the most meaningful ­ it was exactly what we needed as a family. We were able to cling to the most important traditions and let others go. We were able to embrace new ideas and even reject one or two of those.

While Grandpa was missing from Christmas and nothing could change that or make it better without him, by remembering him and adding a few new traditions, it made Christmas different, and that was enough to help my family survive.

This holiday, you have some options. You can do things the way you have always done them, but I suspect the emptiness you feel inside because your loved one is missing will increase and your Christmas will feel hollow.

You can change everything completely, pretend your loved one never existed and try to forget the wonderful memories you've experienced through the years. This, however, is only a temporary solution to help you survive the holidays. Lives are so intricately intertwined that in cutting out anything that reminds you of a loved one, you might cut out the best part of you, your heart or soul.

My suggestion for survival is to be a true American, to cling to the very best of your traditions and then, add new traditions to your celebration that bring new life and meaning to your Christmas.

Surround yourself with people who care about you and never be afraid to receive a gift, even if you cannot give one. That's what Christmas is about even more than giving - receiving, receiving God's gift of a child named Jesus sent to make our world a better place, sent so we can be forgiven, sent so we can be reunited with our loved ones in heaven someday.

If you are fortunate enough to not need to find a way to survive Christmas, why not reach out and make someone else's Christmas better? Give an extra gift, invite an extra guest to your meal, or make a donation of time or money to the many giving organizations in your town. Remember those friends still grieving the loss of a loved one and say a prayer, or two or three.

God came in the form of Christ to be with us so we would never again be without God's love and help. May God help you survive this Christmas and may you remember all that you have been blessed with this past year.

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