Giving up on Christmas, circa 1995

Christmas AngelAt a 4th of July gathering many years ago, Mom asked her daughters and daughters-in-law to join her in Dad’s office. When we arrived, boxes of Christmas decorations had been pulled out of the closet and were stacked in the middle of the room. We gathered around the pile.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Mom looked at me, then at the rest of the group, and threw up her hands. “I’m done with Christmas,” she announced. “I’m tired of decorating the house, trimming the tree, baking, and cooking. Besides, it’s not like you all come home anymore. From now on I’ll just come visit you in your homes at Christmas.”

“Wait a minute. I come home for Christmas!” I protested, the solitary, unmarried, twenty-five-year-old woman in the room.

Mom giving up on Christmas had been evolving for a while. Years before, Mom had stopped fighting the battle over Christmas day. As her sons and daughters married off, had kids, and started their own Christmas traditions, competing for their presence at home finally wore her out.

At Mom’s insistence, 4th of July became the official, annual family gathering. Everyone was expected to come home — an easy undertaking in the summertime in Oregon. Forty-five acres, woods, fields, ponds, creeks, ATVs, a jeep — it was a wonderland for the grandkids.

Until that year, we’d still gathered at home for Christmas on a smaller scale — usually Mom, Dad, me, and at least two other sibs and their spouses and kids. Due to the growing family and financial necessity, gift giving became limited to grandkids exchanging names. Not being married or having kids of my own, I was out of the loop.

I was still in shock over Mom’s announcement when she began opening boxes and handing out cherished family decorations.

“Who wants the Christmas village?” Mom asked.

“I do!” My brother’s wife piped up before I had a chance to respond. My heart sank as I watched her accept the box containing the village, eyes aglow. “Doug’s going to be so happy. He has great memories of this little village from his childhood.”

Mom had always taken special care in putting the village out each year on a bed of white cotton — under the tree, on a coffee table, or on a bookshelf. White lights poked up through the bottom of the paper buildings, allowing light to glow from the windows and doors. Glitter sparkled from the tiny rooftops. As a kid I’d played with the little townspeople crafted from miniature pine cones. A tiny mirror formed an ice rink in the center of town.

But my sis-in-law didn’t grow up with that village. I did. One of us daughters should have it. But my brother has just as much of a right to it as we do. And he’s got kids. I don’t. At least he can pass it on to his children. Pain stabbed through my heart. I’m not married. I shouldn’t take a family heirloom if I don’t have anyone to pass it on to.

“How about this?” Mom lifted a beautiful tree-topper angel with a porcelain face and a gold gown trimmed with lace. The angel had watched over us every Christmas season for as long as I could remember.

Before I could say, “me!” my other sister-in-law claimed the angel.

By then I gave up — martyr-like, truth be told. Christmas as I had known it was gone forever. When everything was handed out, Mom looked at me. “Don’t you want anything?”

“I’ll take this ornament,” I said. I took a glass bell out of a box. “Was this Grandma’s?”

“Yep. My Mom gave that to me.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Days later, I told Mom I was mad at myself for not speaking up for the Christmas angel. For my birthday that year, she gave me my own winged angel with blonde hair, a white gown, and arms clasping a tiny white light. Almost every year since, my angel has watched over me at Christmas and, since 1997, my husband, too.

Last week I had a sad, odd day of missing Mom. She passed away over five years ago. For many years, she created Christmas childhood magic for her kids. Now I understood why she had gotten so worn out, constantly giving and initiating and creating, but gradually being abandoned by her kids as they flew the coop — the normal process of life, but no less painful for her. Mom is remembered and cherished. Love you, Mom.

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  1. Oh, Natalie. I’m glad you got to talk to her about your regret. Mom memories are bittersweet, aren’t they? The good ones give so much of themselves and, most of the time, their children receive it without a thought or thanks. My next childhood Christmas memory post is about my mom’s decorations. She wasn’t available to us during our adulthood due to a falling out, so reading your post was a bit painful. I wish I had even one of my mother’s Christmas decorations.

    This afternoon I spent time with my son putting up our decorations, many of which I’ll be passing on to him when he has his own family. I appreciate the reminder from you that a little thing like an ornament can bring joy in years to come.

    • Mom memories are bittersweet indeed. It warms my heart to know that you can give your son memories and mementos of you, even though you weren’t able to receive those from your Mom. Swooping over to read your post on your Mom’s decorations. 🙂


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