It is the holiday season in the United States. We celebrated our Thanksgiving Day on Thursday. Christmas and New Year’s Day are roughly four and five weeks away, respectively. These holidays are traditionally the most family oriented. Loved ones from far and near gather to celebrate and to feel once again the warmth and love of family.
Those families likely have traditions as part of their celebrations. The smell of familiar foods wafting from the kitchen, a sports event or favorite holiday movie playing on the television, singing, reciting stories or poetry, or perhaps the making of an ethnic recipe handed down from generation to generation are part of the tradition. The familiarities of the traditions are what make the holidays special.
Loss of a loved one disrupts those traditions. There is one less chair at the holiday table, one less smile in the crowd, one less laugh filling the air, and one less person to hug. Decorating the house is different. Perhaps there is one less function to attend. Perhaps there may be fewer memories and fewer stories from years gone by retold by an elder family member. A traditional recipe may go unmade. Each of us has an important role in family traditions.
The first holiday without a loved one is the hardest. Part of the healing process is a transition period where we learn how to move forward without our loved one physically present. Traditions change either subtly or radically as part of that transition. Sometimes several family members share a role. Sometimes a role remains unfilled.
I am very lucky. I spent Thanksgiving with most of my family and spent a wonderful Saturday with Lucy’s cousin and sisters. I missed Lucy, Bob, and Betty, but I also had Annette, Julie, and Suzy giving me smiles and hugs and we all shared laughter. It was the best day I had in several months.
Decorating the house for Christmas has been a story in its own right. That was Lucy’s domain and she always did a phenomenal job with it. I decorated the outside but she decorated the inside. I know now she was very creative at finding places to store ornaments and decorations. Last year, in the time it took me to get the tree into the basement, she magically managed to put away all the decorations and ornaments despite needing a walker. She continues being extraordinary even after her passing.
It took a lot longer to decorate the tree this year. Lucy would normally put the lights up during the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and then put the ornaments and decorations on the next day. I think she wanted to see the tree with just the lights on for inspiration.
I got the tree up on Saturday and lights put on today (Sunday). Part of the delay was because I had to find where Lucy stored the decorations. In the process of discovery, I found she had kept every Christmas card we had received through the years, well over 500 of them. Those holiday cards were a time capsule containing memories. Some of the cards had either lengthy inscriptions or letters detailing the joys and sorrows of the previous year. Others contained photographs showing growing families. I was lucky I had a wonderful Saturday or these finds would have been very emotionally draining.
In keeping with Lucy’s tradition, the lights and the tree topper are on the tree. The ornaments and decorations will go on tomorrow after the tree hints how it would like to be decorated. I’m glad I did it because it makes the house feel a little cozier.
Lucy always bought two Amaryllis bulbs every year so she would have something in bloom at Christmas. She never wanted to try over-summering the bulbs because it was so easy to buy new plants that were ready to bloom. One was pink and the other red and white. Three weeks after her funeral, both plants had wilted leaves. I cut the leaves back and put the plants in the basement near the furnace where they would receive very little light. On Halloween, I brought the bulbs upstairs. The pink one planted in rocks was OK, but the red and white one planted in peat showed signs of fungus. I’m not sure if the pink one will bloom, but it does have four leaves on it each over two feet long. I bought a smaller Red Lion bulb with two flower stalks on it just in case, and it is also planted in rocks. Amaryllis bulbs can be rejuvenated for several years so I am anxious to see if I can make this work.
Lucy and her sisters would make piirakkas (Lucy’s family recipe is slightly different) sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She and I would make our own small batch just after Christmas. I managed to get pretty good at making the rice porridge filling without destroying the kitchen or scorching the saucepan. The recipe kept the two of us busy for a couple of hours. I may take a whack at trying it solo. If you read about an incident in Bloomington requiring the fire department and hazardous waste disposal, you’ll know my attempt didn’t go so smoothly ☺. Lucy and I would also make a batch of Finnish flat bread using her Aunt Kay’s recipe.
Enjoy your family traditions during your holiday season. Remember those who are could not make it, or those who have passed away, with love and affection. May your hearts be filled with love and happiness this season and in seasons to come!