Christmas 2020 for most of us will be different to any other. Some of us will be at smaller gatherings than normal, and without the traditions that layer up over years it might not feel the same. A toast to absent friends will have so many layers of meaning, and there will be conversations about the gatherings we will have with the friends and family we have been prevented from seeing “when this is all over”. For some of us there will be missing people who we won’t be able to catch up with “when things get back to normal”. For me it is my third Christmas without Chris, and my first without my Dad, who died in August.
Chris and I were not together for long enough to make any solid Christmas traditions, unless it counts as a tradition to have something different every year. Over our 11 years together we had some Christmases with my parents and/or my sister and her family at their homes or ours, one in Florida with his family, a couple at home with the kids alone, and a couple just the two of us when our daughters were with their biological dad and his family – these were special Christmases as we rarely had time alone as a couple, he having joined a ready-made family when we got together.
The most memorable one might have been one we spent alone, December 2011. The children were away. He took me out for a restaurant for Christmas dinner (very highly recommended as a new tradition – no cooking, no washing up, and no pressure to have turkey!). Afterwards we went home to unwrap our gifts, drink champagne (me) and Christmas Ale (him) and watch Christmas movies and the Dr Who Christmas special. It was a wonderful day, I just recall it as a day of feeling spoiled and loved. There was one particular moment that stands out as a bit odd – mid conversation he jumped up and started searching the house for something, gave up after a bit and came back to help me polish off the chocolate orange. He later confessed that he had been looking for his Grandmother’s ring, as he had realised in that moment that he wanted to marry me! It was on my birthday, just over 10 months later that we finally got engaged, and with a ring that he had chosen instead.
Chris went crazy at Christmas. He loved it, and bought in to the whole thing, the decorations, the music (especially the music) and the presents. Our first Christmas together he announced that he wanted to buy the girls a Nintendo Wii, which was well above my budget as a single parent! He would buy so many gifts at Christmas that it is a tradition I have had to keep up so that the girls aren’t disappointed! His tradition that I miss most was that he would create a CD playlist called Chrismix of alternative Christmas songs. When we moved in together the (often limited edition) records would start arriving through the post from about September, and there would be a lengthy process of listening and curating until he found a mix that reflected his mood for the year. No Mariah Carey or Dean Martin allowed, they would all be indie and americana artists, some that you would never have heard of and others that you would never imagine would record a Christmas song. He would make the labels for them and they would go out with Christmas presents to our friends.
Our final Christmas together was spent just the four of us as he didn’t have the energy for a large gathering – we didn’t realise at the time that it was his last. He was about half way through his radiotherapy, but had a few days break over the holiday. There was a Chrismix on the stereo, loads of gifts under the tree, and we had a relaxed day, preparing dinner, taking our time and eating when it was ready. It’s a happy memory, not a sad one.
This year there is no new Chrismix, but my younger daughter has been playing Christmas songs since the 1st December, and I have been enjoying the album Seasonal Shift by Calexico, which he would have loved. There are presents under the tree, and my tier means that I am lucky enough to be able to see my mum on Christmas day. There will be no sport on the TV, dad won’t be snoring on the sofa in the corner. There will be champagne but no ale. We will need to make some new memories if not traditions.
When I was first widowed they told me that the firsts were the hardest, and they may have been right. But what they don’t tell you is that it doesn’t mean that the 2nd, 3rd, and most likely 10th are then easy. Every milestone is hard. Last Christmas was in Australia with my best friend (oh, how I wish I could make that a tradition!) but even there and in the build up to the trip I missed Chris, and struggled with another Christmas without him. There were tears on Christmas day because he wasn’t there. I hate the Mariah Carey Christmas song, because it means something different to me now (I think this is a young widow thing!). This Christmas is obviously complicated by Covid, but I’m still sad that there’s no Chrismix, I still feel emotional as I put up the decorations we bought together, or find his box of Guinness baubles.
At Christmas, as throughout the year, I carry my grief that Chris, and now my Dad, are not here, at the same time that I carry my gratitude for the life and loved ones I have. I can enjoy the champagne and take pleasure in giving and receiving gifts at the same time as wishing I could be sharing it with him. There will be moments of sadness and moments of joy, and that’s all ok.
I wish you all peace and love this Christmas.