A Christmas to Remember

This Christmas marks the third Christmas that I’ve been divorced, and I’ve learned that nothing reminds me of being divorced more than putting up the Christmas tree.  Now, hanging ornaments that were collected over 26 years marriage is about as fun as hanging a collection of dead squirrels.  

“Oh, here’s the ornament my sister-in-law made us for our first Christmas!”  It’s in the shape of a heart.  “I’ll put that one where everyone will see it.”  I wonder what my chances are of selling it on Ebay?  All I need to do is find another couple who were married on May 27, 1995 with the names Kris and Rick.  

Then there’s the coconut shell ornament from Jamaica with ours and the kids names painted on it.  It brings back such fond memories of the kids and I on that glorious beach, while he was stuck in the room sick with the flu.  Actually, that turned out to be a good memory. I, and the kids had a great time. But, that ornament might be a tougher sale.  The odds of finding another family with the same exact names as all four of us, who also visited Jamaica during Christmas of 2012 is pretty low.

Really, the only ornaments that I feel like hanging on the tree this year are the one that I made in Mrs. Winterburger’s class in the first grade and the festive one my credit union gave me just last week.  It’s made out of green construction paper and says, “It’s a good time to get a loan.”   

One thing that I have learned the hard way about the holidays is that they can be painful.  While, the holidays after a divorce are rough, nothing compares to the first Christmas without your mom.  This year marks the 20th Christmas without mine.  

The first few Christmases after she died were spent simply just remembering her.  My dad did his best to prepare everything the way that she always had.  I don’t know how he did it.  My brothers and I did nothing but look at old photos and family videos.  

My family had always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, and, unknowingly,  we had Christmas down to a science.  It had become tradition to do things in a certain way and in a certain order, since we were kids.  I guess most families are that way.

Christmas Eve was a magical day, of course, for us as kids.  We knew the tortuous routine of having to wait the entire day before opening presents after dinner.  My mom would make a nice meal, that none of us kids were the slightest bit interested in eating.  I can still smell the turkey cooking as we waited, and waited, and waited.  

We tried to distract ourselves with games, or make believe.  This was way before video games, the internet, or even having a TV in our bedrooms, so it took some creative juices of the brain to entertain ourselves.  We didn’t have enough brain power to battle the agonizing minutes of that day, however.  

The games didn’t get finished, and the tents made out of bed sheets would fall sadly limp onto the floor.  We even tried taking naps thinking that would kill the time.  It just made matters worse, -laying there and thinking about it, smelling the turkey that seemed to take days to cook, and hearing our parents laugh in the other room as if they were torturing us on purpose.  We’d later learn as adults that they were torturing us on purpose, because we’d do it to our kids, too!  It’s one of the few joys that adults have in life.  

By the afternoon, my brothers and I were done with each other.  There was no point trying to make small talk. We each had to find a place of solitude and deal with it in our own way.

Finally, the dull gray shadows of a winter’s evening would fall across my bedroom.  The waiting wasn’t over, though. We still had to eat at the table under the snickering gazes of our parents.  Trying to swallow dry turkey while our throats were tight with excitement was as easy as swallowing a handful of feathers.  

But then, the magic would finally happen.  

As the Christmases rolled by after our mom died, we realized that new traditions would need to be made.  Trying to recreate the magic of the past, especially with missing family members, is impossible.  I think there’s a fear that if you do things differently you’ll forget. You’ll never forget.

As far as holidays after a divorce, well, they’re not a thrill a minute either, but it gets better, especially after you toss out the coconut and heart-shaped ornaments.