We were a little slow getting our Christmas decorations up this year. Well, slow compared to other houses in our neighborhood, not compared to previous years. Last year, we didn’t put up any decorations at all, since we were headed to Hubby’s home country in December. And we had gotten rid of our 3-foot plastic tree before moving to Montreal in the hopes we’d eventually have space for a larger one. So we needed to buy a tree. And lights. Even though, for some reason, I had kept those, they don’t work here. It was last Thursday evening before the tree was fully ornamented, complete with star on top.
Hubby doesn’t care much about Christmas at all, let alone decking out our own house for a holiday he never celebrated until he met me, so Missy and I decorated the tree while he was at work, saving just the final star to be placed in his presence. As I pulled out each one, I explained where it had come from. “This is the bunny Mommy bought for you when you were still in my tummy and we were waiting for you to be born, our little bunny.”
My mom loved Christmas. She always filled the house with carefully chosen and handmade decorations, stockings and wreaths she’d spent hours creating, themed Christmas trees. After she died, when I went to their house to help my dad sort and give away some of her things, we found 16 boxes in the attic labelled “Christmas”. Sixteen.
So I was already missing her when we showed up to play group, only to discover that instead of the usual centers scattered about the large, open space of the community hall, we would be walking down the block to the church. I don’t think I’d set foot inside a church since my mother’s funeral. It’s a large, stone Catholic church, so not entirely reminiscent of the smaller, usually brick, Methodist churches I grew up in, but the rows of pews, the advent candles, the Christmas trees and nativities, the scent of old wood and wax…it was all too familiar. And, once again, I saw my mother everywhere. In the felt banners proclaiming “HE IS RISEN!”, just like the ones she had laid out on our dining room table, cutting and gluing a message for each season. Or the red hymnals she sang from, directing the choir or the whole congregation with her full vibrato. I didn’t recognize the tunes as “Away in a Manger” or “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” but as I mouthed the lyrics that had been burned into my memory, my daughter fidgeting in my lap, I felt like a fraud. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, to my own home, with its sparsely decorated tree and last-minute tissue paper wreath hanging on the door.
Something in me wants so much to recreate the Christmases of my childhood. I want to put on an apron and emerge from the kitchen, dusted with flour and smelling of cinnamon and chocolate, brandishing trays of perfectly stacked sweets. But I don’t bake. I want to dress my little girl in handmade frilly dresses and ribbons and shiny shoes, but I don’t sew. She will not attend Christmas Eve services or star in the church pageant. I am not my mother, and nothing highlights my inadequacies quite like the holidays. I have grand plans, but the execution falls a bit short. I always think, “next year…,” but chances are I won’t have my shit together then, either. And that’s okay. We are making our own traditions, even if they are on the lazy side.
But then I remember, I have no idea what those first Christmases were like for her(and there is no one now who can recall them). Mom was nineteen and single when my oldest sister was born. I’m sure she didn’t have it all figured out. She probably leaned on her own mother through the holidays, something I simply don’t have the luxury of doing.
There is one tradition I will carry on. Tonight my daughter will open her first set of Christmas pajamas, a practice instituted by my mom after my sister and I begged to open just one present on Christmas Eve.
I like our humble tree. Its ornaments remind me of Christmases past, the ones from my childhood, the ones my mother made so special, and the one we spent full of hope and expectation, the one we spent with Hubby’s family, the first time they got the chance to meet our little bunny. I know that in years to come, its branches will be adorned with happy memories we’ve only just begun to make.
Wherever you are today, whether you’re awaiting test results or treatment, still reeling from a recent loss or failed cycle, watching your own belly swell with anticipation, holding your precious child in your arms, or making your own traditions as a family of two, whether you’re surrounded by loved ones or missing those who’ve left empty chairs around the holiday table, my wish for you is that you can find some small joy in the days to come, even if it’s in the memory of a Christmas past or the hope of happier seasons to come. Merry Christmas!