Holy Envy
Island Voices, January 2024

Holy Envy

By Suzanna Leigh

Christmas is the keeping place for memories of our innocence. Joan Mills

I had planned to write about making Christmas – or any winter holiday – bright. About my adventures when I had no money to fuel the Christmas spirit, and yet Christmas came anyway, bringing warmth, comfort, and even joy.

But today I feel empty. Today, I have the money for Christmas presents, to buy a tree and some poinsettias, to make holiday treats. And generally, I have a sense of joy that lives in me year around. Today not so much. Today I have “holy envy.” When I read of my friend’s rituals and beliefs around this season, I feel a vague sense of longing. Would it help to light a menorah, even though I’m not Jewish? To celebrate Advent like my Catholic friends? My Mormon friends are counting down the days to celebrate the birth of one called Jesus.

Santa has listened to children’s Christmas wishes at the Santa’s Cottage uptown. Christmas lights are strung across porch roofs, around trees, along fences. Christmas tree stands flourish in the IGA parking lot and at the roadside stand where a local fisherman sells fresh salmon in season. Ace has an isle with lights, fake wreaths, and tree decorations.

Perhaps I need to employ some of the techniques, activities, and rituals that brought me joy in those times of scarcity, in past Decembers. Let’s see. What did I do the Christmas my second child was due? I was eight months pregnant. Kinderpa, baby’s father, was off prospecting for gemstones in the desert. Child support? What’s that?

We could not afford a tree, so I found boughs of Douglas fir that had blown down in a windstorm. I tied them together and stood them upright in a five-gallon bucket with rocks. Voila! A tree!

I had no tree decorations, but I did have pieces of stained glass in ruby red, ultramarine blue, and sunflower yellow, left over from a stained-glass window I made. I wrapped copper foil around the edges of some triangular pieces and soldered them together. Voila! Little stained-glass angels to hang on the tree!

A few months before, I had found – left behind in a house I cleaned – a box of gaily colored cards with the word “JOY” printed red on pink. These I arranged among the branches of our tree. Their colors and message brightened the room.

Although money was scarce, I did have food stamps. I bought walnuts in the shell, candied fruit, flour, and honey. I shelled the nuts, careful to keep the shells whole when I could. In the half-shells, I made beds for little gray yarn mice and covered them with scraps of red fabric. These I hung on our tree. When the whole shell, both halves, was unbroken, I wrote Christmas wishes on slips of paper and put them inside the glued-together shell. Then I hung those on our tree. Everyone who came to visit was invited to choose a walnut from the tree and open it to find their wish.

With the candied fruit, flour, and honey, I made fruit cake. In spite of folklore to the contrary, it was quite good!

A song kept running through my head:

“Hey ho, nobody home.

Meat nor drink nor money have we none

Still we will be ha a aapy.

Hey ho nobody home.”

Well, I believe the words we say program our brains to create our lives, so I changed the words to:

“Hey ho, everybody home.

Meat and drink and money have we lots,

And we will be ha a aa py.

Hey ho, everybody home.”

Although the song didn’t bring Kinderpa home that Christmas, I invited the neighbor kids over to make gingerbread cookies and decorate them. It was such fun making and decorating the cookies that this has become one of my Christmas traditions.

Traditions do bring a sense of completeness, of comfort, and sharing my traditions opens my heart. If my heart is feeling empty this year, what shall I do to change that? My kids are grown, and my grandchildren are not available, so who can I invite over to make cookies with?

January 8, 2024

About Author

suzanna Suzanna Leigh is a long time island resident, writer, and artist. "I used to visit my parents, who moved to Vashon in 1969, when my father retired from the Air Force. One time when I came to visit, as a single mother with a four year old son, I stayed. I grew up an 'Air Force brat', living all over the nation and in Europe, but Vashon is the first place that felt like home.