Our tree is up and the twinkle from the white lights beckon me out from my home office each night. I’ve learned if I plug in the tree before 4:30 pm, I can walk upstairs to some light at the end of the day.
The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Although, every time the fireplace is turned on, I remind Dylan to remove the giant, red knit socks from their hooks. The polyester will melt from the heat.
Gifts ordered online sit on the kitchen table, waiting for wrapping, ribbons and string. When discussing our small family’s Christmas plans Dylan winked at me and said, “Let’s honor the environment this year and not wrap our gifts for each other.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I think the environment will benefit from our holiday laziness.” At least in the case of the two gifts we plan to exchange with each other.
I’ll try to make the others beautiful, wrestling tubes of paper left sitting in the corner closet, waiting for their turn since last year.
Christmases after Dad died have been a gradual undoing of all the things this month is supposed to be. The first year I clung to tradition, trying hard to recreate what we used to do in my own tiny living room. Despite the cheese plate breakfast, and matching pajamas, most of the day was spent in a painful fog trying to tend to the tears that just kept coming. Our sink broke. We washed dishes in the bathtub.
I have to search deeper into my memory to recall details as year one became year three. There was a viewing of Die Hard and attempts at new traditions – a family night out at the local theatre to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas. The pressure to feel the good spirits of the season blurred like the white lights on the fence of the highway as we drove home from church on Christmas Eve. I wrote of splitting in two.
There are so many splits in grief.
Before and after.
Pre and post death.
Sorrow and joy.
Gratitude and gut-wrenching pain.
Dad picking up paper as presents get unwrapped and the piles of holiday detritus crinkling on the floor.
Last year, at this time, I wrote of the ‘enoughness’ of attempts at ‘doing’ Christmas. I said no to baking, yes to shopping, and hosted large gatherings with aunts perched on piano benches and grandmas squeezed into chairs at our kitchen table.
And here I sit, at the end of a pandemic year, where I’ve spent most days at home. Our plans, thus far, include Zoom Christmas morning and porch drop offs. I rest in the split between freedom from haunting traditions and the desire to be together, smushed on the couch, in matching pajamas once again.
This weekend, I got out the metal mixing bowl to bake. Mixing molasses and flour and spice, I spent hours shaping stubborn dough into snowflakes. Turns out the piping bags and decorating tips were left at Mom’s house. Instead, I filled a Ziploc bag with frosting and snipped off the tip. The result were less than perfect. Thick lines of frosting oozed from the edges onto the counter below.
When I finished decorating the cookies Dylan said, “Hey, they still taste good.”
That’s where I sit this Christmas season. In the metaphorical, ‘still tastes good’ space.
This season is far from perfect. And yet …
The decorations are bringing me joy. The lights, comfort. Attempts at tradition remain good enough. Opportunities to give back are endless.
And I hold space in the split – for what won’t be, can’t be, shouldn’t be present this season.
Watching the news this morning, I saw a brave 91-year old woman receive the first COVID vaccine in the world. I wept thinking of all the work that interaction took. How exhausted must be the scientists, the health care workers, the teachers and grocers, the delivery drivers who make my life work. Of all the hope the single dose brought, and all the sacrifice it took to get to this point.
I’m not sure what will happen next, but today, sitting near the twinkling white lights, I encourage you to honor the sacrifice. We’ve lost a lot this year.
What still tastes good?
Your answers may be beautiful things.