You might be thinking, “Why are you writing about Christmas? That ended two weeks ago.”
And you would be wrong. The Christmas holiday season ends on January 5,6, or 13 depending on your cultural and/or religious traditions. I define Christmastide as December 25 to January 5, the 12th night and the Feast of the Epiphany which runs into January 6, Three King’s Day which is widely celebrated in Latin America.
Yes, the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ is not just a Christmas carol about insane gift expectations. And with the shipping overload COVID-19 put on USPS, it’s a good thing. Gifts arrived during Christmastide, but maybe not by December 25. But no matter because gifts are not really the point.
Our end of year festivals have been celebrated in one way or another in the Northern Hemisphere for millennia, because of the winter solstice. It is not pagan to celebrate the return of the light. It is astronomy, the very physical reality of our planet’s axis. It is also a celebration of a life preserving harvest, of family and community before we all hibernate for winter and try not to starve. This perspective has been lost with the technological advances of the modern world. But if this year has taught me anything, it’s how quickly we can revert to an earlier way of life.
Charles Dickens’s Scrooge said, “Every idiot who goes about with a ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” For all of those ‘Santas’ who make Christmas happen (read ‘mom’), by Christmas Day it feels as if we have. The preparation often starts at Thanksgiving and celebration lasts until New Year’s Day and beyond. So, it’s no wonder some people are relieved and ready to get on with there lives after ripping through wrapping paper and Christmas dinner.
For many, Christmas 2020 was a disappointment. We all made our decisions in the wake of COVID-19, whether because of financial hardship, health risks, or both. With any luck, it will be an anomaly and celebrations will return to normal this year. But there are moments in every lifetime when traditions end and another must take its place.
I can mark the years of my life in large chunks based on where and how I spent Christmas. Life sometimes hands us events that forces us to rethink Christmas- death, divorce, moving away. We have to make Christmas all over again, make it our own.
After the dissolution of my last long-term relationship, I traveled to my hometown for Christmas for a decade. It was during these visits at the holidays that I spent the most time with my mom over the last thirty years. But 2019 was mom’s last Christmas. She succumbed to Leukemia in May 2020.
Here is life.
2020 was my first Christmas with my partner in our new home. Celebrating Christmas at our home meant there was very little holding me back from boiling in my own pudding. We took Thanksgiving weekend off but staring December 5th, we did it all:
- Christmas décor inventory and shop for what was missing
- 126 Christmas/ Holiday cards. Mine were store bought but his were of his own design, a relief print inspired by medieval rabbits
- Fresh 7-foot tree bought from a church lot and strapped to my Chevy Spark
- Combine our Christmas decorations for the first time and dress our tree
- Wreaths in the sunroom and on the doors
- Lights on the fireplace, bubble lights on the buffet, hot pepper lights in the kitchen, and icicle lights in the window.
- Host the office holiday party on Zoom
- Bake 12-dozen cookies and participate in a cookie exchange with his family outside at a Como Park fire ring
- Help a friend sort her Christmas decorations and dress her home for the holidays
- Order the fabulous leg of lamb ‘Staff Meal’ from Al’s Breakfast for Christmas Eve dinner
- Toast our moms with mimosas Christmas morning before opening gifts by the fire
- Eat a fabulous crab leg Christmas dinner, surrounded by all the Christmas cards sent by friends and family, tokens to let us know they were with us in spirit
- And so much more!
I expected to be very sad for Christmas and while there were sad moments, by far my joy was sharpened and amplified by my memories of my mom and of Christmas past with my family. Every year, I would arrive with popcorn, candy, and gifts from Minneapolis in hand. Mom would have a roast or something else cooking that she was never happy with to feed me on my arrival. Then the many nights of staying up talking, playing games, or watching movies with my family would begin. In the daytime, we would shop for whatever gifts and groceries were missing, finish up decorating, baking cookies, and wrapping presents.
After Christmas, we made a special point of going to the Luthy Botanical Gardens to enjoy their Christmas tree display and drive through the East Peoria Festival of Lights. We would have a day to go to the movie theater and watch a couple movies back-to-back. And we would make our annual trip to Rhodell Brewery for more than a couple pints and conversation.
I could never have guessed that Christmas would become the happiest season of all for me because I spent it with mom for so many years. It’s the time of year that she is still with me. She is in my heart and memory for Christmas, forever.
For many, 2020 could not end fast enough. I heard the jokes about staying up until midnight in order to watch 2020 die. And while we did celebrate with a fire, playing Scrabble, and drinking Tom & Jerry’s, New Year’s Eve was the hardest part for me. You see, my mom doesn’t exist in 2021. There are no memories in the New Year with her. So I clung to the last hours of this most terrible year.
Auld Lang Syne was never so bittersweet.
Have a safe and happy 2021!
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2021