Three years ago I took my kids (Elena Grace & Christian, then 9 & 12) up to my parents’ house for Christmas. It was the first time in over a decade that I had been “home” for Christmas, and we resurrected every Christmas tradition I had grown up with. We baked my grandma’s famous vanilla-apricot sugar cookies. We decorated the Christmas tree with ornaments our family had accumulated abroad over decades of travel. We held a Christmas-caroling party on Christmas Eve, and my mother and I together sang our favorite descant to “Silent Night” to finish it up. We opened stockings while we drank orange juice out of great-grandma’s gold-rimmed goblets. We read aloud the whole of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” We made snow angels in the back yard and pelted each other with snowballs.
It was Christmas Redux—a revival of everything I associated with childhood Christmases, shared with my own kids. And for that year, it was perfect.
This year my husband Jon brought me home to join my mother for Christmas again—and it was a very different Christmas. This year my kids were with their dad, and my own dad isn’t with us. He passed away in September, so it’s fair to say that our emotional focus was on that fact: First Christmas without Dad. That sounds like it should have been awful, but it actually wasn’t awful. It was different.
When Mother and I talked on the phone earlier in the month, she forewarned me that she probably wasn’t up for all the stuff we used to do. She’d get out her Christmas decorations, but wasn’t sure she wanted to mess with a tree. She might bake, but she wasn’t sure. She didn’t feel like focusing on gift-buying. What I wanted her to know about ALL of that—about any decision she made about Christmas—was that it’s okay. I hoped she wouldn’t feel obligated by the weight of her own expectations.
I’m glad now that we did do Christmas differently. I think if we’d attempted another Christmas Redux, all we would have felt was the gaping hole in it. Christmas was low-key, and it was great in a different way. Mother and Jon and I spent time together, watched some movies, went to church, talked a lot, prayed together. On Christmas morning we lingered over breakfast, then wandered into the living room with our coffee-mugs and exchanged a few gifts in each direction. Her Law Partner (who’s been Family for a quarter-century) joined us for dinner, and for Holiday Charades and a rousing round of “Taboo.” (Taboo is definitely more up my mother’s and my alley, since it involves talking-fast instead of not-talking!)
We didn’t bake, but neighbors brought plates of cookies. We didn’t host a caroling-party, but we went to one. We enjoyed the snowstorm because we didn’t have to drive anywhere in it. We didn’t take any photographs (except of the “mascot dinosaur” dressed for Holiday.)
I still missed Dad, but I didn’t miss the extra bustle of having a list of things to get done and fit into the day.
Any Time of Change presents the opportunity to revisit and re-evaluate what’s important. This week, it was a time to look at what Christmas traditions we actually feel moved to carry on (we sang that “Silent Night” descant together at the Christmas Eve service!) rather than feeling obligated to continue them ALL.
And the one small thing I know about this Christmas… is that it wasn’t at all important what we gave each other, or what we did. It was important that we were there.