Christmas was different that year. We were accustomed to lots of packages under the tree and well-stuffed stockings. Holidays usually brought mounds of divinity candy, mountains of fruitcake, and dozens of cookies. This year, however, we didn’t follow our normal holiday routines. Mama had died in the spring, taking our holiday rituals with her.
And if the emotional drain wasn’t enough, Daddy also had to bear the financial burden of Mama’s prolonged hospital stay. Even though he never said anything to us about how much—or how little—money we had, we sensed that there wouldn’t be much for Christmas that year.
Still, we celebrated Christmas Eve much as we had for the past several years at Aunt Winnie’s house. Gifts were stacked high, around and under the tree. The punch bowl was full and the table was spread with a variety of holiday treats. Aunt Winnie’s “kissing ball” was hung in the archway between the dining room and the living room. Everything was as it should be and everyone was there—aunts, uncles, cousins—everyone but Mama.
The ride home was filled with silence. It was late. Maybe we were tired. Maybe we left our Christmas spirit at Aunt Winnie’s.
Little brother was put to bed. The rest of us stayed up to get ready for Santa. We hung the stockings on the mantel and left some cookies on the hearth. Before turning out the lights, we took one more look at the tree. Daddy said that it was the most beautiful tree we had ever had. He was right; it was beautiful. It was round and fat and perfectly formed. It was just the right height for our living room, and every ornament was where it should be. Daddy said it was a shame Mama wasn’t there to see it. Then he turned out the lights, and we stood in the dark to see the special glow-in-the-dark icicles Mama had bought years before.
All was quiet as we stood there with our own memories and thoughts. The soft light of the icicles warmed my heart, and I finally felt the true Christmas spirit. I realized that life is not gone simply because the lights go out.
I still miss Mama. But I know we can be together again because a baby was born in Bethlehem so many Christmases ago. He lived and died and lived again. So will Mama.