My father was larger than life.
He wasn’t perfect, and we didn’t always get along, but he was an amazing dad. Especially at Christmas. While my father felt family was everything on any given day of the year, Christmas was The Show. My father insisted on the biggest tree, decorated with hundreds of lights, both colored and white, one strung up and down, one strung around. My father made sure presents bursted out of every spare inch underneath — very few times did our wish lists go unfulfilled.
We did everything for Christmas as a family. My brothers, the boyfriend/girlfriends that became spouses, and, eventually, the grandchildren all picked out Christmas trees together, decorated my parents’ tree together, opened presents in pajamas at my parents’ house together. On Christmas day in 2011, my mother insisted on taking a family picture. Turns out that was the last picture of us with our patriarch before we said goodbye to him in April when he lost his hard-fought battle with multiple myeloma.
Even outside of our home, my father made sure so many others felt appreciated on his favorite holiday. He bought present after present for local families in need. My father gifted dozens of people in town with a box of candy and a generous gift card to a local restaurant. For several years, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving my father opened up our home to nearly 200 people to kick off the holiday season. He happily provided warm food and cold drinks to those he considered friends, colleagues, and family. He wrote a new poem every year for the festive invitation. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, the tradition ended, but those who were once a part still speak fondly of those gatherings.
The first Christmas after my father died was a jarring dose of reality.
While every day without him was difficult for one reason or another, it took all my family’s strength to get through Christmas day without him there. My nephews put tinsel on Nana’s tree because Grankie loved tinsel. It looked wonderful, but it was one more visual reminder of who wasn’t there. When he wasn’t there to pass out presents or smile as the grandsons got excited over all their gifts, we smiled, but inside we all knew what was missing. The next year, I expected things to be easier. I still missed my father immensely, but I foolishly thought the hardest part was over.
I was wrong. When the second Christmas season without him arrived, I was unenthusiastic. I didn’t want to decorate my house. It took me and my husband two rounds of decorating to finish our tree because I became so emotional I had to stop the first time. Putting up ornaments was just too overwhelming and hard. I went through the motions of Christmas for the first few years after my father died. It simply didn’t mean as much anymore.
My son’s first Christmas was the start of my Christmas rebirth.
While he will never know the man he was named for, I was determined that my little boy was going to love Christmas as much as I did growing up — because of his Grankie. It was still work to be spirited for my son’s first two Christmases, since he didn’t truly understand what the magic and wonder were all about. Last year, when he was 2, something bigger clicked. For the first time in years, I wanted to decorate the house. I bought a few new items at Target, and being festive became a little easier.
This year, though, now that he’s 3 and aware of what this whole Christmas thing means, I love every second getting ready for the holiday with him. We decorated his toy room with a wall sticker Christmas tree. As we put it up, he made up songs about how excited we are for Christmas. We put out his Fisher Price Christmas train and nativity set. I ordered way too much from Target and Michael’s to put up around our house. We made a family trip to Walmart to pick out new ornaments. My son felt he should get five because that’s how many fingers he has. It was really hard not to give in, because I just want him to be so in love with Christmas. My son yelled, “Yeah, baby! It’s Christmas tree time!” as our 12-person family left on our excursion to get our trees.
His enthusiasm overwhelms me, and I can feel the excitement radiate from him during our activities. It completely consumes me. And I’m happy to let it.