It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Happiness and cheer! Around each corner, timeless songs echo through the air. Smiles seem to be wrapped with a bow upon the faces of each man, women, and child you meet. The smell of warm cider fills the air and the hope of snow is just beyond the window.
But for some, this time of the year carries a weight. With all of the seasonal traditions, it’s hard not to recall those traditions and those people who are lost to the past.
At about this time each year, it was a family tradition to make a large pot of homemade hot cocoa from scratch. Mixing cocoa power, sugar, vanilla, a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, a pinch of salt, and milk we would pour this wonderfully warming elixir into a large thermos and travel some distance to a farm and chop down a Christmas Tree.
For what seemed like hours to my little legs, we would walk into the woods. Deep, we would trudge, passing endless rows of trees shaking and pulling limbs here and there until we found the perfect tree. Hands clutching our thermos we would each take a few more warming sips, then inching gentle towards the trunk, my papa and dad would take turns slicing deliberately until the far too tall pine tree would fall before our feet. With sap soaked palms we would pull, “gently now,” down the hill the tree that we had spent a morning searching for and strap it tightly to the roof of my grandparents’ four-door Buick. Singing along to The Dean Martin Christmas Album we would then make our way back home to decorate through the night.
Now years later, those memories seem like fairy tales. I haven’t cut down a Christmas tree in at least 10 years.
The people of those memories have since been embraced by grace.
With their lives vanished from this Earth, the holidays seem all the more different now that the characters of my dreams can no longer play their parts.
This tension of the holidays is not mine alone, but a feeling that we each hold, or will sadly one day carry. The loss of a loved one, no matter the age, is always difficult to bare.
What once was, now isn’t.
How do we adjust?
Who puts the star at the top of the tree?
Who hides the gifts in the far back corners of the closet?
Who will make the cocoa?
Yet, while I can no longer hold their hands or sit upon their laps that does not mean that their lives do not continue to live within mine. Their physical presence may be absent, but their spiritual presence is very much alive.
Each person did not simply arrive isolated on this planet. We are not the creators of our own empire. What we have, we received from those who came before us. A flower does not shine into the sun without having once been planted. We are just the same. Our life, our personality, our talents, our wealth, our gifts were all given to us by the countless men and women, who for generations brought us to this moment.
I never knew my great-grandparents, they were gone long before I was born, but I have heard so very many stories of them, that their lives seem like that of old friends. I didn’t know them, but their lives changed mine. The very hot cocoa recipe I drank as a child was the same recipe my grandfather and mother grew up drinking.
As I now sip on a cup of hot cocoa, made just as I was taught, their memory and their life grows with me.
In what other ways do we carry on the lives of those who have gone before us?
Beyond the hot cocoa, I know that each time I make an off-color joke, cry at a movie, plant in a garden, or laugh from my belly I am bringing to life the essence of my papa.
Each time I sit patiently and listen for hours to someone in need, write notes to friends, or smile with pride at the joy and successes of those around me I am bringing to life the spirit of my grandma.
Each time I go out of my way to help someone, randomly touch base with an old friend, or sing-songs about nothing I am bringing to life the joy of my dad.
The people of those memories have since been embraced by grace. Yet, grace lives on eternally in the lives of others. We are not here by own doing. We are here because of grace alone.
We each carry within us the lives of every person that has come before our own. We are who we are, because of those gift people in our life. We are the sum of our shared experiences.
While the seats may still sit empty, even years later, as a sign of reverence for what once was, it is also an open invitation for the spirit to join with us as we continue new traditions.
They will not be Home for Christmas, but their love light still gleams.
For I am home for Christmas, and they are still with me, if only in my dreams.