Eight Christmases have come and gone since my mom died. This Dec. 25 will be my ninth Christmas as a mother myself. The holidays have taken on new meaning during these bittersweet years without her, but I keep her close by continuing many of her traditions and honoring her in the way I celebrate with my family.
The biggest symbol of holiday cheer in most homes is the Christmas tree, and this was no exception in my childhood home. If the tree didn’t visibly scrape the paint off the ceiling, it wasn’t big enough.
To my husband’s dismay, I faithfully continue this tradition, and each home we’ve shared has shown evidence on the ceiling of a properly festive tree. We still use my mother’s big, old-fashioned colored lights, despite the fact that they may be a fire hazard. And the big blue glass ball with her name spelled in glitter, which once hung on my grandmother’s tree, I proudly display on mine.
Somehow each year’s tree, with its heavy fragrance of Frasier fir and branches laden with ornaments both old and new, makes me feel like I am back in my childhood home.
Sometimes I find it difficult to talk to my children about my mother. She was clearly such a huge part of my life and integral to the person I am today. But they never had a chance to meet her, and I find this a hard divide to cross. During the holidays, it is much more natural to bring her memory into our home and share that important part of my childhood with my family.
We use her cookie cutters to make sugar cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, and I incorporate her recipes for bourbon balls and ham and swiss rolls into our holiday. The aroma of good Kentucky bourbon, butter, and powdered sugar in my kitchen stops me in my tracks every year as I pull out Mom’s old Junior League cookbook.
In these small ways, she is with me, and it provides an opportunity for me to share stories about her with my kids and help them to know her a little.
In this busy and frenzied time of year, I always take time to slow down and reflect. I sit by my tree at night and listen to Mom’s favorite Johnny Mathis Christmas carols. I read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” aloud to my kids while they snuggle up in their holiday pajamas, remembering how she read this wonderful story to us each year. And every single Christmas Eve, I cry quietly in church while listening to “Silent Night” in the candlelight, missing her.
I would do anything to have my mother here for a Christmas with my children. But I will continue making her presence a part of the memories we are creating, and whenever I hear Brenda Lee singing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” I will think of Mom and dance in my living room — just as she always did.