Enduring Christmas

stockings2019I never wanted to be one of those people who endured Christmas. But this year, the days before Christmas felt like a race through quicksand. True, work slammed me for a solid two. Plus, I’ve moved to the City after living in the County, a place so familiar I could drive it in my sleep. But in Federal Hill, I’m still exploring. Where to buy a tree? presents? and will someone please tell me why there isn’t a nearby post-office? And my life’s still in boxes, with most of the Christmas stuff still packed and stored in the Scary Dusty Cellar.

I am, of course, clearing my throat. The above represent mere inconveniences, mere challenges to shipping out the cookies and cards (I did not), getting the presents bought and wrapped (I did, on Christmas Eve), and immersing myself into the spirit of the season (Bah. Humbug.)

Here is the elephant under the tree: This is the first Christmas in 57 Christmases that I haven’t spent with my mother. And the tenth Christmas without my father.

And I miss them terribly—a huge hole in my heart, a hole made larger by the acute understanding Christmas will never be the same.

No more driving to North Carolina to Grandma’s house, one kid riding shotgun, the other in the back napping with the dog. No more making batches of apricot pistachio biscotti ahead of time. No more Cook-Out on arrival (Cheerwine floats, golden hush puppies, oh my). Or cribbage with Mom at the kitchen table while watching Jeopardy after dinner. No more gathering in the living room, all four grand kids (my sister’s two plus my two—they are grand young people now) while Mom sat like a Queen in her recliner, handing out gifts one at a time. No more baked spiral ham and Mom’s mac-n-cheese (the best, she threw in some Velveeta) for Christmas Eve, the kids in the kitchen, the older people in the dining room. No more Christmas Day, a quieter time, the morning spent chatting with Mom in her sewing room and, then, breakfast and more coffee in the kitchen, watching the birds peck at the suet, talking or just sitting there, being.

Just a few traditions I miss. Simple things that mean even more now that I can never experience them again.

But the part I miss most about Christmas is the gathering. The gathering for purpose—to be with loved ones. And this is the quicksand that’s sunk me this season—grief, in many forms, but mostly with this loss of gathering.

At my age it’s hard to start something new, but that is what this Christmas is about: new traditions. I’m not sure what those traditions will look like—I’m still grieving, still unpacking all the boxes in my house and heart—but so far they include old rituals (biscotti and sugar cookies, a live tree, crab cakes for Christmas dinner) and new ones (stockings hung from the fireplace mantel, chili for Christmas Eve, gift-giving on Christmas morning rather than eve). At some point, when I least expected it, the spirit of Christmas crept quietly into my house and decided to stay awhile.

And now, the day after Christmas, I find I have more than endured this year’s festivities—I enjoyed them. Because as long as Christmas includes my children, their loved ones, and my sweet Bella, then it always will be Christmas.

What old traditions have you shed or lost? Which new ones have you adopted?