Mom Took Christmas When She Died

4 years ago

Christmas tree on mommyhooddomI am not like my mother. She adored Christmas and everything about it with every sparkly red and green blood cell in her body.

In the two years since she died, I’ve decided that I don’t like Christmas very much. Maybe Mom took Christmas with her when she died. Either way, without her, Christmas just isn’t the same.

It’s going through the motions, remembering happy times instead of living them. It’s wishing I could roll back the clock instead of anticipating a sunrise. It’s loving what was and not believing in what could be.

It’s all of a sudden this strange new holiday I’ve never before observed in my 40 some odd years. It’s still red and green and smells like pumpkin spice, but nothing about it feels right.

I prefer the other one, the one with Mom in it, so that’s what I think I’ll remember today.

Christmas With Mom

My mother was Christmas. She oozed the Christmas spirit. She wasn’t wacked-out A &E special or anything, but she sure did love it.

If Mom had ever had the good fortune of winning the lottery, Christmas shopping for my brother, sister and me along with her two grandchildren, would have been her undoing. Oh, she loved the gift-giving aspect all right, and if you ask my dad, she overdid it every year without fail. But she wasn’t a materialistic person. Far from it.

What she loved most about Christmas was the combined magic of having “her babies” all at home, the fireplace blazing, the temperature outside teasing the possibility of snowflakes, and her kitchen humid with the aroma of rising yeast and hardening fudge.

She loved decorating her house and hosting family get-togethers. She loved walking in to Christmas parties carrying her renowned homemade rolls to the “Ooos” and “Ahhs” of everyone there.

Mom loved making Christmas special for other people and in turn, that made it special for her.

Her exuberance was contagious. Lord knows I peeled hundreds of potatoes and wrapped presents until I thought my fingers were going to bleed every year, but I didn’t care about the work. I was with my mom and she was oh so much fun to be around.

If she wasn’t telling you how much she loved Christmas, she was singing it. Mom loved her church hymns and Elvis CDs. Every year we would drive around the neighborhood at night singing “Blue Christmas” at the top of our lungs. It was our thing.

Mom loved seeing her Christmas tree all lit up from the street. It was her pride and joy that 10-foot tree. It took her days to place every lovingly collected ornament on just the right branch. Each trinket and treasure she delicately wrapped in tissue paper and stowed away in divider boxes the other 330 days a year.  For nearly 40 years she preserved the plastic Raggedy Ann that sat atop my 3rd birthday cake.



The minute I’d arrive home for Christmas, she’d whisk me into the living room and say, “See honey, I put your Raggedy Ann right here at eye-level.”

Every year we’d go on a trip down memory lane Mom and I, around the branches of that tree. She loved being the tour guide to my happy childhood, the kind she never got to have.

There was always the plastic cardinal with real feathers perched just so. It had flown in in the late 70s on a Christmas package from Mom’s favorite uncle. Next to it hung an ornament my sister made out of a real ice cream cone when she was in elementary school. Amazing the humidity in the attic never turned it to mush. Mom always took extraordinary care of her Christmas ornaments. She was very sentimental that way.

She loved the dozens and dozens of white lights she wrapped around that tree and the green pine garland she wound around the staircase railing. She loved the red holly berries on the mantle and the fresh mistletoe over the doorway. She was especially fond of her red hand towels in the guest bathroom and encouraged you to go ahead and use them.

For several weeks each year, her tattered and scorched potholders were replaced with red and green ones shaped like Christmas trees.  Mom had snowman dishes she’d gotten from the dollar store and a coffee mug shaped like Santa’s beard.

On Christmas morning, Mom was like a kid in a candy shop. She couldn’t wait for us to open our presents and would rouse anyone who dared sleep too late.

She had a hard time sitting still long enough to open her own presents: she loved giving too much.

Mom’s Christmas meals were epic. I never found a pair of jogging pants big enough to relieve me of the wonderful misery she called lunch.

Christmas evenings were spent playing board games, laughing, and watching Mom carry log after log to the fireplace. She equated heat with love. I sweated my you-know-what off every single Christmas.

The day we all went back home was always hard for Mom. You could tell she was tired, and sad that Christmas was over. She hated to see her babies leave. She’d always try a stall tactic or two to get you to stay a few minutes longer. In my case, it always worked. I never wanted Christmas at Mom’s to be over either.

I still don’t.

It’s hard to believe that it is.

It will never happen ever again.

Logically, I know it’s finished. Emotionally, it’s unacceptable.

I always thought I loved Christmas just as much as Mom did, but now I realize it was just her that I loved.

Jennifer McCullough

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