I’ve never figured out what exactly it is about the holidays that make us miss our loved ones even more, but we do. I don’t know why on Christmas I miss my dad a little more than I do the other days of the year, because there are 364 days of the year where I am very aware he isn’t here. It’s not that we had thousands of Christmas memories together, I can only piece together a few at best. One of my most vivid memories is watching my parents hang Christmas lights. I don’t know why this is the thing that I’ve held on to for so long, but it’s in my mind forever. Each year they started to hang more. One year it became a friendly competition with the neighbors. To ensure a victory, I remember watching my mom flip the ‘on’ switch on a string of battery-operated lights that she had hung on my horse’s neck for the neighbors to see as they pulled into our driveway. Twenty-five years later, I still absolutely love Christmas lights. I love that they require tremendous patience and planning, but people hang them for others. My husband knows how much I love lights and he knows that it’s important to me. Each year, he has added more lights and this year he put up around 25,000 lights. He hates every moment of it. (I mean really hates the process. And the electric bill.) He spends a weekend of his beloved hunting season dedicated to my lights and he says a lot of words that lack Christmas cheer, but he does it anyway. The moment our toddler first saw the lights this year, he squealed in pure joy. It was in that moment that I realized a piece of Christmas with my dad had been brought here to this moment, 25-years later.
My cousins and I text every holiday about all the things our grandma baked for us (but in reality, we know the conversation is really about how much we miss her.) We send each other pictures of our attempts to replicate her creations, knowing we have no chance of duplicating her pecan pie, but also knowing that’s not the point. We know we aren’t attempting her pastries to match her baking skills, we are trying because it’s our way of keeping her with us. Now that we are in adulthood, we realize the things she made us were never about how well she could bake a pie, it was about the ways she showed us she loved us. She made various things because we all had different favorites. She insisted we would take seconds and thirds and didn’t stop insisting until we finally just did it. My cousins and i would spend half the afternoon in a food coma. Our grandma knew a secret that we didn't know at the time: as the years would go on, it would become more difficult to get together. Now that we have our own families, our holidays are often spent hundreds of miles apart, but moments with her are still with us when we talk about her.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia, the way I miss that time in my life of being a child. It’s imagining my grandparents’ living room, full of the people I loved most in the world, and that moment of happiness as I listened to their laughter. Twenty-five years later, I can still picture a moment of standing there in my velvet holiday dress taking it all in and knowing it wouldn’t last forever but hoping it would. I can’t remember the gifts my grandparents got me, even though I know it was always something I really wanted, because grandparents have a way of doing that. We lived six hours away from their farm, so when I had a chance to see them, they made it count. I remember a kitchen full of incredible appetizers and desserts with so much laughter and happiness. Every Christmas break, I take my kids to a movie and I think about how my grandma took her family to do the same. I think about how much my grandparents would have loved the great-grandchildren they never got to know. And I wonder if they know how much they are missed.
I never met my husband’s grandmothers, yet every Christmas, I hear so many stories of them. His nana was British and his aunt always brings a beautiful English trifle to Christmas dinner. I love that although I never met these women that were such an important part of his childhood, I sometimes feel as if I know them from these stories at the holidays.
I think maybe we miss them at the holidays because that is when we all stop to take a moment to talk about them. Maybe it’s because as we all gather and the empty seats makes us more aware. But where this is an empty seat, there is a story, and those stories deserve to be told for years to come. Eventually the empty seat is filled with a booster seat and a new little someone to share the memories with.
Every Christmas and New Years Eve, at the end of the night, I walk outside and stare up at the stars. There is something particularly incredible about the December sky, as if the stars sparkle a little more. I love the calmness of it. It reminds me that although there’s now an empty seat, the people I miss might not be that far away. Staring at the stars helps lighten the sadness. I hope we always remember to carry their memories into our Decembers.