The people you know at Christmastime

I was still in my pajamas late this morning when the doorbell rang. Unshaven, unshowered, and a bit of a melancholy mess, I thought, “I’m not going to answer that.” I was in no condition to see anyone.

But then I found myself getting up and looking out the window. I recognized the truck. It belonged to a friend who for the past several years has dropped off an amazing homemade Danish as a Christmas gift.

I ran out in the rain and caught my friend and his wife before they drove off. He got out of the truck, gave me a hug, and wished me a Merry Christmas. I hadn’t seen him in months, and yet he still took the time to drop by. As an introverted guy, I hate drop-ins, but today’s visit made me happy.

I sat alone for an hour or so after he left thinking about the people I know who I won’t see this Christmas. They’re people who—even if they don’t know it—are a part of my daily life, people whose spirit and toughness get me through the rough patches, people I don’t tell enough how much they mean to me.

I took my son to lunch, and as we sat shoving meat in our faces, I looked around the restaurant at a bunch of folks I didn’t know. Every time somebody’s eyes met mine, I wondered who they were thinking about today. I wondered if they had the holiday blues. I wondered if they were missing somebody. I wondered what made them cry and who made them smile. I did the same thing when I was at the local holiday lights festival this week as hundreds of anonymous cars wove up the decorated mountainside. Each driver sat in a dark car with his headlights off, each lost in his own thoughts.


The more I thought, I realized there is a certain emotion that comes up around this time of year, one that—like the death of a loved one—feels unique but is likely something close to universal. That is, I realized how likely it is you know the same people I do. Maybe not exactly the same people, of course, but the people they represent.

The old high school friend who is fighting cancer

The friend who lost her job just before the holidays

The friend who has spent months in constant, debilitating pain

The friend who trusts you enough to tell you the things that scare you the most

The family that is thousands of miles from home spending the holidays without the rest of their friends and relatives

The friends whose lives have been torn apart by circumstances beyond their control

The friend battling depression and fighting to put on a brave face

The friend who is caring for her sick mother and scared she is going to lose her

The people who only need a little notice to drop everything else and meet you somewhere for a few cocktails and lot of laughs

The brother or sister you can call a best friend

The single mom who is teaching her children to live in America for the first time

The friends who unexpectedly lost their mom

The friends you grew up with that you never see anymore

The people who know the things that make you exactly happy and go out of their way to make those things happen

The friend whose illness got the better of him this year

The friends who create art that breaks your heart, makes you laugh, and fills you up with the kind of joy you can barely stand

The friend who took the giant career leap he’d always wanted to make and stuck the landing

The people who can’t make any plans beyond today because tomorrow could turn everything upside down

Or, more succinctly, the people who make up our real lives. Not the public lives we live on Facebook. Not the private lives we only think about when the lights are off and we can’t sleep. Real life. Every bit of it. Terrible and wonderful. Joyous and painful. All of it real, all of it who we are.

I’ve got a ridiculously easy life. I make it a point to remind myself of that every day. More and more, though, I find myself thinking less about how easy my life is, and more about how tough this week must be for many of the people I love.

All at once, I wanted to drop in on every one of those people, give them a hug, and tell them Merry Christmas.

I wanted to tell them thank you. I wanted to tell them I’m sorry. I wanted to tell them how important they are to who I am and who I want to be.

If you’re reading this, there is a very good chance you’re one of those people. So, thank you. I’m sorry. You help make me who I am and who I want to be.

My only Christmas wish is that you take the time today to think about the people who make up your real life. Think about the people who inspire you, make you love, teach you toughness, and bring you joy. Then, in whatever small way you can, celebrate the fact those people exist. You don’t even have to let them know if you don’t feel like it. Just recognize it in your own head and heart. If you’re anything like me, it will bring you a certain peace you won’t be able to find anywhere else.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanza. Happy Holidays.

And thank you for being you.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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8 Responses

  1. francie says:

    Sigh, one day, I will remember not to read your posts in public.
    Thank you! Xx

  2. Simone says:

    I am always touched by your writing. You have an amazing way with words. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. emme says:

    One love

  4. K Nielsen says:

    Your post awakened so many Christmas memories of me with my huge extended family, most of whom are long gone at this point. Except for a few notable exceptions (the magic kit, the dollhouse, Malibu Barbie, my first walkman) the gifts are largely forgotten, but the people who gathered and Lord, what we ATE and how we laughed – that’s what I’m missing today. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  5. NT says:

    Merry Christmas to you too, Brad! Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with us.

  6. Carol Goldsmith says:

    I remember the first time I took my daughter to see the Holiday Lights. She was about two years old, and thought it was a great adventure to be out late at night looking at the twinkling, glittery wonderland. She was even excited about the unlit places. She would lean out the window, and yell “Hello, dark!” Over the years it sort of became a rallying cry of sorts, a kind of defiant stand against anything unfamiliar or slightly scary or…just plain dark. “Hello, dark!!” It think of it on this day of light in the darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

  1. December 30, 2014

    […] Also, as is my wont, there was unabashed navel-gazing. I used to be ashamed by the practice, but anymore it’s just who I am. Mom’s pencil is some explanation for how I ended up doing this in the first place. Threadbare troubadour is my admission that 30 years of playing guitar and singing has only made me want to do it more. Finally, there was this Christmas carol to the people who make me understand how good I have it in life, The people you know at Christmastime. […]