I love the holiday season. I love shopping and wrapping and cooking and hosting and stressing about the shopping and wrapping and cooking I haven’t yet done to be ready for hosting. I love feeling superior to the rest of the country because I can be in New York City in 30 minutes’ time and feel the energy and festivity and the completely exclusive sensation of being both freezing cold and sweating profusely at the same time in a crowd of people getting engaged and getting in family fights in front of a giant tree. I love drinking eggnog and watching other people be grossed out by my yolk-based cocktail. I love all of it.
I hate waking up on December 23 in tears because I dreamt my I missed my mom’s call. I hate finding the perfect present for her or watching truly terrible Hallmark movies that she would just love. I hate when my kids ask me why I am talking in my crying voice because just breathing seems a little too hard today.
It’s been 10 years without her. And we are doing fine. Really we are. But if we could have her back for just one day a year, this would be the day.
Christmas under mom’s watch was not textbook perfect. It was far from a catalog Christmas. My mom wasn’t Christian or Catholic or any Jesus-abiding religion. She was a Jew who grew up in Communist Romania under a dangerous regime. She celebrated as a child because it was safer to assimilate than not. (My dad, by the way, is a Buddhist from Japan who grew up eating KFC for Christmas day – an actual thing).
My mom “hid” gifts in plain sight on her bedroom floor. As we got older, she leaned into her arthritic hands and had us help wrap the presents (i.e. wrap my own gifts that I would get way before Christmas anyway because she was too excited to wait to give it to me). She served too much food for dinner buffet-style in disposable tins that stayed out all day so we could graze while she organized a family-wide cheat at Scattergories for the sheer purpose of making her rule-driven oldest daughter crazy. She forgot about stuffing stockings until late Christmas Eve and then dumped stuff in from around the house pretending it was purchased just for us. A half-burned candle. A chocolate bar out of the fridge. One year, I got my own toothbrush – my own used toothbrush.
In other words, it may not have been perfect but it was perfect.
I love the holiday season. I love it because my mom made us laugh with her Christmas absurdities. Sometimes she made us (me) cry when we (I) came out of the bathroom and everyone else in the room suddenly agreed that a country starting with the letter “c” was “Cashmir”. She made us gluttonously eat. Then eat some more. She made us feel like a part of some crazy Christmas circus society. I love Christmas because I loved her.
And when I wake up with cheeks wet from tears, missing her so much I think it might crush me, I make myself get out of bed and wrap a half-burnt candle or a gift they forgot from last year because I am the mom now and I, too, will make this a completely imperfect perfect Christmas.