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By Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian

When I was in high school, I was part of a very special Christmas tradition. The concert choir at Largo High School auditioned and was selected to participate in Epcot Center’s Candlelight Processional. We arrived by bus to the theme park and were quickly removed to back stage to rehearse. Hundreds of high school students from all over Florida were packed into an enormous warehouse. In the center of our chairs, a raised stage held our conductor and several guests.

Each year, a celebrity read parts of the Christmas story to us, and we responded in song. The original composer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, a frail old man who had to be helped onto the stage, sang for us in an amazingly deep and resonant voice. We processed through the entire park, holding candles and singing Christmas carols. As we climbed to our place in the tree-shaped bleachers, we excitedly waited for our celebrity to emerge. George Kennedy, Paula Zahn and James Earl Jones lent their voices to my processionals. I had goosebumps that had nothing to do with the temperature the year Darth Vader read the Christmas Story. I cried through a good bit of my singing, but with so many voices, no one noticed.

I was still technically a kid at this time. There were no bills, decorating and buying presents hadn’t yet become a bit of a burden, and I had a job where making a mistake never resulted in death. All I had was the joy of the season, time with my loved ones and a vacation from school. Somewhere along the line, I forgot how special this time was to me, until the year I canceled Christmas.

In 2016, almost half my family moved to Hawaii. Our party of seven for the holidays is now reduced to four. We are all experiencing some melancholy, especially since the youngest and most enthusiastic among us will be spending Christmas on a tropical island with her parents. My parents are retiring at the end of the year, with the usual financial concerns that accompany this momentous event.

I asked my mom if she would be open to just spending time together this holiday instead of decorating, cooking and buying presents. Happily, she was up for it and booked us dinner reservations at the Don Cesar for Christmas. They put up a tree and lights, and I didn’t. Finally, my husband caved and suggested we get a small tree – the first live tree we’ve had in almost a decade. It was quickly and easily decorated, which made me happy. I’ve been listening to Christmas music and watching holiday-themed movies all season.

I looked up the Candlelight Processional CD online. I check every year, and I always talk myself out of it.  This year, I bought a digital copy. I’m listening to it now. I still remember most of my part, though my voice doesn’t go as high as it did then, and I’m kind of scaring the hell out of my dogs. I’m happy. I found my Christmas spirit in music and family. I’m a better vet because I’m not adding holiday stress to work stress. In fact, I’m less stressed at work because I’m so rested at home. I thought cancelling all the Christmas hoopla would make me sad this season, but it didn’t. It helped me get back to the things that are important to me in a way that fills me with joy. This holiday season, don’t be afraid to make a change. In fact, go looking for one. It’s the season of magic and miracles – there’s no harm in making your own!