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Christmas also can be a time of sad reverie for lost moments

For most Americans, Christmas is a generally happy holiday, if sometimes exhausting. It signifies the birth of Christ, but it’s also a moment of family reunion and reflection of Christmas days past.

For the devout, it is a restatement of faith. For children, it is a delicious moment of anticipation. For parents and relatives, it’s a time to shower unconditional love in the form of presents, dinners and catastrophically fattening food, and to brave the air-traffic-control system. Christmas, in its most perfect expression, is a time for love and forgiveness.

Christmas also can be a time of sad reverie for lost moments. Families break up, parents cannot afford the Currier and Ives-Bing Crosby-“It’s a Wonderful Life” festival because of economic instability. Relatives do not speak for whatever reason. Loved ones are no longer there to share in the precious moment Dec. 25 can be.

I have experienced lovely Christmases and profoundly sad ones. I have had to find the Christmas that lives in my heart to go on.

As a child, my parents were alive. I got the race car set I wanted and played in the Michigan and Minnesota snowfall. Santa ate the cookies and martinis we set out for him. Grandma and Grandpa were around telling me I was the most special boy in the world.

My worst Christmas was the one when my ex-wife told me, a few weeks earlier, as far as she was concerned, our marriage was over, and that I was to drive over from my apartment on Christmas morning to pretend it was all going to be OK for four hours.

My children knew the marriage was in trouble. After all, I was no longer welcome in my house, and I was living in an apartment. All I could muster that year was a string of Christmas lights on my new mantel. No tree. Too much trouble. Besides, there was one at the house, for my kids.

Sitting there in a fugue state watching my kids open gifts, trying hard not to cry, and knowing this was the last one I would have with them, was rather like a death sentence. I do recall my eldest son being very excited about the new bass guitar and amplifier that, in another environment, would have been excessive. But I wanted them all to get what they wanted.

What I wanted I would never receive.

It took years for me to embrace Christmas again, but I did, slowly. Over the years, more lights were hung, and a fiber optic tree was introduced. I tried to bake cookies but forgot the shortening, and Christmas music, once too painful to listen to, became a familiar friend again. I had new friends and people in my life. My kids were growing up, and I was enjoying life again. Many people in my life had died: My father, my editor, my best friend in whose chair I am sitting while writing this, and so many others are gone. But Christmas is still here.

I was invited to spend Christmas at my former in-laws’ home last year. It had been eight years since I had been there. Two little cousins, who were about 9 and 11, had suddenly become 16 and 18 or so. There was another divorce, so that cast of characters was absent. But my children’s grandparents were there, cooking the same foods, telling the same stories, and providing continuity in the children’s lives. Everyone was very cordial and seemed happy to see me. My sons were with me. But I knew I was a guest, and not a fixture. I still would have to craft my own holiday.

I have, and it’s good. I will spend a very pleasant Christmas Day doing Christmas things. Christmas music will play. I will be with people I love, and I will be listening to excited reports on what gifts my children receive. I have new children in my life to help. My guess is Federal Reserve notes and some Xbox games will be a hit. I will consider the California palm trees in my backyard and pretend they’re snow-covered evergreens.

Two new fiber optic trees help, too.

Merry Christmas, and celebrate it in the best way you can. Christmas is out there for everyone, if you look for it.