December the fifth marked the third anniversary of my beloved grandma’s passing. I feel her loss and miss her every day, but even more so each December, and especially at Christmas. She was born in December 1932 and baptized on Christmas Day. She loved Christmas—and I love Christmastime because of how she always made the holidays feel. I am determined to keep Grandma’s special brand of joy alive for my family, which means not letting the hustle and bustle take away from the true meaning of Christ’s birth.
Christmastime can be overwhelming
Like many parents, I can get really overwhelmed by all that needs to happen at Christmastime: holiday cards, shopping for and wrapping gifts, volunteering and giving back, attending my kids’ Christmas concerts and performances, attending family, friend and work holiday parties, and decorating the house.
All of it threatens to inundate me but remembering my grandma reminds me that I just have to be present. Christmas should be a “feeling” of joy, and the traditions, while incredibly meaningful and important, are the not the end-all. It’s okay if they must change due to circumstances from year to year, but the love and feelings brought about by this time of year should endure. The love is what is essential, and my grandma was the best at giving and showing love.
“Perfection in imperfection”
The three words that come to mind when I remember her are faith, family, and food—and perfection in imperfection. We never had Instagram-worthy, picture-perfect holidays, but they really were perfect.
My family gathered in her farmhouse and delighted in her homemade turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed vegetables, and her amazing chocolate turtles, pies, and iced sugar cookies. She always stood in a sea of brightly wrapped presents in her living room, a beacon of joy in a red Christmas sweater, calling each of us by name and giving us a gift—in more ways than one.
Carrying on traditions
On her Christmas tree were handmade ornaments bearing the names of each of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All of us were proud to find our ornament each Christmas and took pride in being a branch of the family tree that she and Grandpa built. That tree made us all feel at home, and the farm became an irreplaceable part of us because she made sure her home always felt like ours.
My mom carried that tradition forward in her own house by hand-sewing a stocking for each new member of her own family—my husband’s stocking was the first to expand the original set of five and each new spouse and grandchild has their own that is filled to the brim each Christmas. My mom now has the family ornaments from Grandma’s tree on a second tree in her house.
And building new ones
I miss my grandma so deeply when I recall these memories, but I began missing her holiday traditions long before she died. As often happens, my Christmas celebrations changed after I had kids and I was no longer able to go out to Grandma’s on Christmas Day. It always pained me, even as I enjoyed building new traditions with my husband’s side of the family.
But, as God often does, he opened a big window when that door closed. Our family’s new tradition became driving out to the farm on New Year’s Day. We’d get to spend the day with Grandma, practically one-on-one, exchanging gifts, and playing cards and eating snacks together, including the leftover Christmas cookies.
My grandma’s love was unconditional. It never mattered that she’d had folks over for New Year’s Eve or been up late and hadn’t prepared her house or had time to prepare a big meal. She always welcomed us. There has never been a greater feeling in my life than when I’d walk through her front door holding one of my babies. I dare anyone to find truer love reflected in someone’s eyes.
Grandma taught me the true meaning of Christmas. Not only was she a shining example of someone who relished her Catholic traditions, which always influenced and strengthened me, but she also was someone who enjoyed community and serving others, mostly through her delicious food. She was all about family—whenever and however we could be together. And when we couldn’t be together physically, nothing made you feel better than a hand-written card that she’d always sign the same way: “with love from Grandma.”
Merry Christmas, dear Grandma. I am sending love to heaven this year, and in every celebration, I vow to keep Christmas the way you did. Please tell Jesus that I said, ‘thank you’ and give Grandpa a big kiss for me.