Once upon a time I was a young single person, striking out on my own in Colorado, while longing for my old Christmas traditions back with my family in Nebraska. That first year away, I asked to take one unpaid day so I could go home. The boss didn’t think it would look right if someone else had to answer the phones. Instead I came to work on Christmas Eve where—I am not kidding—people drank and we listened to current popular tunes, such as Madonna’s Like a Virgin album. Welcome to the real world.
I regret that Christmas Eve even more because a few days later my phone rang early on Saturday morning.
My dad choked out, “Jenne’s dead. She was killed in a car accident last night.” Jenne? But I had just been dreaming of her.
I didn’t care if the boss thought it wouldn’t “look right”—I wasn’t going to work New Year’s Eve, too, and miss Jenne’s funeral. Jenne, a freshman in college, was our neighbors’ daughter. She was the closest to a sister that I had. Our families spent Christmas Days together, but I had missed her last Christmas . . . because I had to work so people could drink and listen to Madonna?
The next Christmas I did make it home to be with my family. But our celebrations with our neighbors were done. The family Christmas tree was too much of a reminder of the way the house looked the night Jenne didn’t come home—from that time forward, her parents no longer put up a tree and made sure to be away from their own house, surrounded—and eventually learning to celebrate again—within much larger groups of relatives.
A few years later, I married Sherman and we began a new tradition of my parents’ coming to visit us at Christmas most years, especially once our children were born. That way we could celebrate with my parents and then bring them along as Sherman’s family all gathered at his parents’ house. Even after my father died, we managed to continue that tradition, despite missing him very much.
Though it seems like a lifetime ago, it was only three years ago that my mom’s Alzheimer’s had ravaged her so much so that we couldn’t even consider bringing her to our home at Christmas. Still, it was our kids’ first Christmas back from college and we did what we could to continue most of our traditions, even if I don’t think any of us will ever recover from seeing her at that last Christmas celebration at the residence where she lived.
Mom died less than a month after Christmas. I thought I was ready—I mean, how can you watch someone disappear so much and still want her to live?
Well, I didn’t want her to live that way. But when Christmas came, I just couldn’t bring myself to decorate the tree or anything else in the ways we had for years.
When faced with my inertia, my daughter Christiana suggested we just take a page out of the Elf movie and decorate with paper—it would be pet-safe from our puppy and it would bring a lot of color into our darkened room. Thank goodness she’s an artist so we could have detailed paper ornaments in addition to old stand-bys such as paper chains and snowflakes.
I said I didn’t trust the puppy/now dog again last Christmas, so we did it again, only with more forethought this time around.
The thing is I’m not so sure the dog has anything to do with the changes anymore. I think that without my mother I’m just done with celebrating the way we did. Time to keep the old traditions with the good memories and move on to creating a new picture of what Christmas looks like around here.
The more Christmases you celebrate, the more people there are who have moved from sitting at your table to living forever more in your heart. That’s just life, but it doesn’t make it any easier just because it’s something we all experience.
Let’s face it though, if Christmas means anything, thanks to the birth of Christ it means that you can live with the hope that you will see those you love again. What’s not to celebrate about that? Cherish your memories, mourn your losses, and change your traditions as you must, but never forget to celebrate the Light that came to shift this world for once and all.