It’s no secret that the holidays can be emotionally exhausting after the death of a parent. It doesn’t matter how many years they’ve been gone, there will always be an empty place in your heart during what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year.
The first Christmas after my mom passed away was miserable. My dad and I didn’t even bother hauling the decorations up from the basement. There wasn’t a tree in our living room and lights didn’t adorn the front of our house. My mom’s coveted collection of Santas and nutcrackers remained packed away. To top it off, a snow and ice storm knocked out our power and my dad, brother and I spent Christmas night in a hotel after eating dinner at Denny’s. Miserable.
Decorating for Christmas was mom’s thing. As soon as Thanksgiving was over, I looked forward to helping her place her holiday treasures throughout the house. I especially loved the village houses that lit up. Mom would let me arrange those how I liked — strategically placing ceramic churches, homes and grocery stores on mounds of cotton snow, filling in the empty spaces between with tiny people and trees. I missed setting up those village houses most that first Christmas.
We bought our tree from the Swannanoa Fire Department every year and mom always insisted it go in front of a window, any window, so our neighbors could see it as they drove by. Her second request was that the tree have lots of lights.
She is the reason I am so passionate about where our tree lives and how many lights it wears.
When we were looking for a new rental home in April, I knew we had found “the one” when I walked in the front door and saw a beautiful bay window in the living room. The first thing I said was, “Oh, a Christmas tree will look perfect in that window.” Eight months later, here we are decorating the tree we bought from the Cornelius Fire Department.
When we brought the tree home Saturday, Justin asked if I wanted to put it in the corner instead of the bay window. The look I gave him was enough to assure him that his question was dumb.
We started decorating it on Sunday and are still working on it as of tonight (Wednesday). I wasn’t happy with just two strands of lights so Justin stopped on his way home Monday night and picked up another box. I could hear my mother’s voice coming out of my mouth as I proclaimed that the tree needed even more lights after wrapping that new strand around it. Justin’s a trooper, though, and stopped for another box tonight. Four hundred multi-colored bulbs blanket our little 6 foot tree. Now, it’s perfect.
When I moved out of my dad’s house, I took most of my mom’s Christmas decorations with me.
Her village houses currently light up a corner of our living room. The Christmas Little Golden Books she used to stand up on the end tables in the living room now greet my house guests at the front door. Two of the four strands of lights on our tree used to wrap around my childhood trees and most of mom’s ornaments hang from the branches, mixed in with ornaments Justin and I have collected throughout the years.
Having these items on display is my way of preserving those Christmas traditions my mom created and giving her an extra special place in our home.
When I look at my house at this moment, it’s like going home for the holidays — a home that lives only in my memories now. When I see certain ornaments or place small decorations on a shelf, though, I’m reminded of the 18 Christmases I had with my mom. In that moment I feel a little closer to her; I truly feel like I’m home.
Last Christmas was the first without my mom’s mom. My aunts, cousin and I spent a day last year rummaging through Nanny’s decorations, selecting items each of us wanted to keep.
I guess I forgot about those things because I was surprised to unpack an unfamiliar snow woman and cardinals. It didn’t take long to remember where they came from, though, and a smile stretched across my face at the thought of past Christmas Eves spent at my grandparents’.
Though they are small, these items will forever be treasured because of the comfort they bring me when Christmas spirit is difficult to find.
I could tell you a story about each ornament that hangs on my tree, and God bless Justin because he has heard them all — every year since we started dating. These aren’t just possessions that get removed from boxes for one month out of the year. The memories that are attached to these treasures are priceless, and one day I’ll be able to pass them on to my children, keeping my mom’s holiday spirit alive through story.
I honestly can’t wait for the day my tiny humans ask to set up their grandma’s village houses.