With the amount of turmoil in my life as a child it seems obvious that there were never any real traditions that stuck; how could they stick when life was forever changing? The first three years of my life were spent living at my gram’s house, where the only memory that sticks out is sitting around the Christmas tree in my gram’s living room in my diaper opening gifts with Peter’s dad. The gift I remember opening was a teddy bear in a jogging suit, who soon became “Albert the Bear.” I am not certain these memories come from deep within myself, or if they come from photos and stories, but it is something that I can feel deep in my heart.
The next set of memories come from the years living in the trailer with Mom and Ralph. What I remember most about this time is waiting for my gram and grandmother to arrive. Christmas could not start until they were present. I remember pacing back and forth in front of the tree waiting to see Gram drive into the yard, often with my grandmother as her passenger.
After Mom and Ralph split up Christmas got confusing. I would spend the days before Christmas with Ralph and my grandmother. I remember sitting on my knees on the floor in the living room in front of the Christmas tree opening gifts with my dad and grandmother. I was the center of attention, the main focus. I was on my best behavior, an occasional “thank you,” and a constant smile on my face as I waited to be delivered home. I didn’t know it then, but I cherish those moments with my dad and grandmother. I did not realize how few moments like those that we would have together.
Later Ralph would drop me off at Bill’s house, where I would get ready for Christmas with Peter, and later, Kate. I remember not being able to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, as I listened to each and every sound. I would tip-toe into Peter’s room and poke him until he woke up…”Peter….Peter…did you hear that?”
He swatted me away. “Go back to bed Jessie.”
“But Peter…Santa came! Come look at our stockings…please….pretty please Peter.”
After a few minutes of begging, he would get up with me and we would quietly creep to the stairs to sneak a peek at what Santa left behind. Sometimes Mom would catch us and yell at us to go back to bed, other times we made it down to get a good look. I can still feel the magic that filled my body as I saw the stockings and presents around the tree…not because of the gifts, but the feeling that filled the house.
Christmas morning we sat together as Peter, Kate, and I opened our stockings while Mom and Bill drank coffee. Mom let us each pick one gift to open before we went to Bill’s parent’s house for their family Christmas, where we awkwardly sat on the floor around a tree with all of Bill’s family. The time passed so slowly as I thought about what was waiting at home for us. When it was finally time to leave we went home where Mom started Christmas dinner while we waited for Gram to arrive. “Where is Grammy?” I asked as I looked out the window and waited for her car.
“Be patient Jessie.”
The magic returned when Gram walked through the door, because now it was Christmas. Gram greeted us with hugs and took us to the living room so we could show her our stockings and we sat together as we waited for Mom to come in.
A few years later, that all stopped. When I was in foster care I spent my first Christmas away from home. My very first Christmas spent without Gram. It would have been devastating if I had not spent it with Hannah and her family. Everything as I knew it was different. Hannah’s family made my Christmas as special as possible, and treated me like their second daughter.
The next few years were spent as a quiet Christmas with just Gram and I. Gram filled my stocking, and I filled hers. We didn’t always wait for Christmas morning to open our gifts, we made our own rules and just had fun together. The magic returned.
As I became a mother I wanted more than anything to “make” new traditions. I wanted Christmas to be perfect for my kids, still not understanding that traditions cannot be forced. I wanted things to be just right, so my kids could have traditions they could share with their kids. As life would have it, a few years into a “tradition,” and something would change. An obstacle would come our way, and things would have to change.
Fast forward to Christmas 2008. It was Ruby’s first Christmas, and Gram’s last. It was only years later, looking at pictures of that day that it hit me. A first and last on the same day. The excitement of children at Christmas and the sorrow of losing my Christmas magic now took over the season.
A house fire, divorce, and death changed everything again. A fresh start over, and over and over again. Still, clinging to the idea of tradition, the feel that fills me this time of year is a hollow kind of love. Warm on the edges and cold in the center. A façade. Faking it. All the right motions. And yet, dead inside. To the depths of my core, the coldness encases my heart as I long for what I always wanted.
But the magic. The magic never left. The magic is what warms the frigid pieces of my soul. The warmth of the magic kept me from freezing, kept me from dying.
Throughout the years one thing remained the same. Love. Maybe it didn’t look like other people’s love. Maybe it was hidden under layers, but it was there. It was always there. My magic was Gram. And the magic my children will have is my love. My love is the tradition I hope they remember. My love is what I hope gets them through their holidays for years to come. Without love there is no magic. Without love there is nothing left.
Remember in the crazy, busy pursuit for the perfect Christmas, the perfect day, it is within you.
Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, and Blessed Be.