Speaking of Christmas music, my four-year-old Jackson can’t get enough of it. We’ve had it blaring on Pandora and in the car for at least two weeks already. Tonight, my dad took him to his regular swimming lesson, and when they got home, my dad said, “He is obsessed with Christmas music! He was singing it the entire time we were in the car and in the locker room. He even makes up his own lyrics!”
My first thought was: “My work here is done.”
My next thought was: “I’m so grateful.” Because there was a time, not so long ago at all, when I thought I might never love Christmas again, when I thought I might, in fact, hate Christmas forever.
Growing up, Christmas was my favorite holiday by far. My mother, who struggled to be happy or feel like she belonged during most of the rest of the year, positively shone at Christmas. She loved decorating the house (I remember one phase where she made exquisite wreaths out of cotton bolls we picked at Thanksgiving from the farm where she grew up), shopping for just the right gifts for everyone, collecting every kind of Christmas album from country to Celtic, and most of all, wrapping presents. She turned every gift–even those that would be opened by young children who would only tear right into the paper–into a work of art, affixing tchotchkes to them with hot glue and tying beautiful bows from dozens of different kinds of ribbon. Like most of us, she was at her best when she was doing for others, and Christmas gave her ample opportunities to do just that.
She died six days before Christmas in 2002, and Christmas was never the same again. My siblings and I are a little far-flung, both physically and emotionally, and she was the glue that held us together during that time of year. My dad halfheartedly put up a tree each Christmas, but that was about as far as he cared to go. I continued to bake cookies for us to decorate on Christmas eve, and we kept our tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning one at a time from oldest to youngest, but it all felt like a production, a poor facsimile of the real thing.
And then I had a child. She was born just a few weeks before Christmas, so her first Christmas was something of a blur. But the next year, when she was a year old, I began to get feel a sense of the magic again. I decorated, I sent out simple cards with a photo of Hudson playing in the snow, I put on my mom’s Christmas CDs, I kept mulling spices brewing constantly in the house, I bought Hudson a Christmas dress at a consignment store, we took her to visit Santa at the mall. Even though Ed and I got a horrible bout of food poisoning on our drive from DC to North Carolina a few days before Christmas, I remember it as one of the happiest times of my life.
And five months later, Hudson died. The next Christmas was one of the darkest times of my life. Ed and I flew to Paris on Christmas Eve, because I could not bear to spend Christmas morning watching my nieces and nephews open gifts in order from oldest to youngest and wincing every time we got to the spot reserved for the baby, where Hudson should have been. As another giant “FUCK YOU” from the universe, it even snowed on Christmas in North Carolina that year, but we were halfway around the world.
I thought Christmas would hold little but pain for the rest of my life.
I can’t quite put my finger on when I realized I was wrong, but that precious boy of mine has been a huge part of it. He caught the bug, and now, nothing brings me more joy at this time of year than watching his excitement as Christmas gets closer. Last year, when he first started hearing Christmas music on the radio in November, he shouted, “It’s starting to be Christmas! It’s starting to be Christmas!” This year, he begs for Christmas music as soon as we get in the car or walk in the house. He’s been bugging me for weeks about getting the decorations out.
And lest you think that this is all about Santa and gifts, his list for Santa last year consisted of two items: a stuffed tiger and a stuffed elephant. He’s barely even mentioned Santa this year.
During our bedtime snuggle tonight, I asked him what it was he loved most about Christmas. He said, “The Christmas tree.”
My work here is done.
I am so grateful.