If you weren’t sure that Christmas was my mom’s favorite holiday, you would just need to cross the threshold of our door into her Winter Wonderland. In the Reece household, the traditions were as endless as the love the holidays brought. We had at the very least; two beautiful trees covered in popsicle stick ornaments built with more love than glue, angels with my face on them, and lights that would brighten your day. Her China cabinet was emptied and filled with swirly rainbow lollipops, chocolate flowing out of crystal containers, and old fashioned Coca-Cola glasses filled with candy canes lovingly draped over the sides. The stocking were hung by the chimney with care, they had been with us since childhood and they sure showed their wear. Her homemade hot chocolate would warm our hearts and the following candle light service would warm our souls.
Although she wasn’t much of a morning person, on Christmas she would wake us with a smile and didn’t try to hide that she was as excited as we were. We would sit around the living room in our Christmas pajamas and open up our gifts while Amy Grant or Randy Travis were drowned out by giggles and the crinkles of colorful paper. I can still see her huge smile and hear her contagious laughter as we would open the gifts that meant more to her than they did us. We would eventually find ourselves in the kitchen and devour tamales, eggs and my dad’s “famous” sausage balls. After we were nice and full, we would gather back in the living room to read one of my favorite bible stories, Luke 2:1-20.
Christmas with my mom was beyond magical. When my mom passed away eight years ago, my whole world was shaken. I didn’t want the magic to fade away and I tried to keep her traditions alive. It was a way to feel close to her even though she was no longer here with me but time continues and seasons move on. I ended up marrying a man who is teetering on Scroogy and boardline Grinchy. It’s not that he didn’t have loving traditions as a child, but he didn’t bring them into adulthood. My husband is a talented musician and when I BEGGED him to learn a Christmas song for me, he begrudgingly sang ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’
Stink. Stank. Stunk.
This year as I carefully unwrapped my mom’s decorations, I was finding myself longing for that magical Christmas again. Tears rolled down my face as I held the fragile ornaments in my hands. I was yearning for my mom’s hot chocolate and missing her so much I almost couldn’t breathe. While I was hanging up my mom’s stocking I realized I was not enjoying myself, I was only decorating because I felt obligated to. I thought that if I didn’t do it exactly like my mom did, I was losing her. It was in that vulnerable moment I realized I was still living in the past. I was missing out on creating my own traditions with my husband, who had just walked in the door to find me as broken as the ornaments at the bottom of the box.
I was still enjoying Christmas but the magic I was missing was creating traditions with my own family. I realized I couldn’t live in the present if I was living in the past. I will always treasure the traditions and memories I made with my mom. Creating my own traditions doesn’t mean I will lose or forget her. I now know that it is about merging traditions of my past and mixing them with what my husband and I value and enjoy. We didn’t put up a Christmas tree this year for various reasons. Space being a big one but four smaller reasons that tend to see ornaments as toys (and sometimes food). Knowing that it was important to me, my thoughtful and supportive husband surprised me by creating a sparkly tree made of tinsel pinned to our wall, so far this seems to be pet proof.
As we blasted Jingle Bell Rock my tears subsided, I knew I found the magic again. We displayed all of HIS (I know right?) nutcrackers around our kitchen and on my baker’s rack there is a magical candy shop displaying some familiar Coca-Cola bottles and Santa’s. As I stood back and looked at all of our (her) decorations I realized I had found that good balance of the past and the present. My new traditions were now merging with my mothers.
I still miss my mom but instead of letting the heartache steal my joy, I’m creating a world where her traditions can live and the memories bring a smile to my face. If you let it, grief can steal the magic and joy of Christmas. In this journey I have realized that traditions are an important part of life because it’s important to keep living and laying the foundation for your very own candy shop. If you’re reading this, I’m praying that you have not walked through the pain of losing a loved one, but if you have, I hope you know that you’re not alone in the Christmas season. If you are struggling right now, hold on to hope and know that joy will follow. It’s okay to cry, to laugh and to re-decorate your china cabinet when you need something sweet.