Christmas came and went, a once joyous occasion dampered for obvious reasons. Dad didn’t decorate, hardly considered it Christmas. It was Mom’s favorite holiday, so who could blame him for wanting to avoid it? In fact, she kept a lot of the decorations up year-round. She mailed out Christmas cards, baked cookies, and started buying things online months in advance, stocking the gifts in her closet and wrapping them Christmas morning (and always forgetting one and finding it sometime the following spring.) So for Dad, and for all of us, it just wasn’t the same.
For me, I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, but Mom’s obsession with the holiday music coupled with the store decorations going up before Thanksgiving even came left me bitter. I couldn’t stand holiday music and I stopped baking cookies the year I separated from my husband. I would put up a fake tree and a few decorations around the house, but that was it.
I would visit Mom and help her with the cookies sometimes. She always used the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip bag. They were delicious– fluffy, perfectly browned, and always with extra chocolate chips. I would use the same recipe. Mine were flat and burned. It didn’t matter how I adjusted the temperature, where I put the rack in the oven, or how I tweaked the recipe. It always ended the same. Even when I’d help Mom, any of the ones I would put on the pan would come out the same, but Mom’s were always perfect. I sort of gave up on making them after that.
This year, though, I needed to do something different. I needed to do something to remember Mom. Chef and I bought lights for the outside of the house and Dad bought us the light thing that you stick in the ground and it projects lights on your house (it’s name escapes me as I write this.) I put the tree up in late November as opposed to December 1st. I pulled out the stand mixer Mom gave me a few years ago and for the first time in three years, I baked cookies. I even put the holiday music station on while I baked. It was the first year I didn’t hear Christmas Shoes, a song about a young boy who wants to buy shoes for his dying mother. Every year I would hear it and it always reminded me of Mom.
My cookies were still flat and they were still burned. Almost every batch was inedible no matter what adjustments I made. But I didn’t care. Chef and I still scarfed down the ones that made it out in one piece (and even some of the ones that didn’t) and I brought a batch to Dad’s, which he ate in one sitting. I still smiled the whole day, singing along with the songs that I didn’t realize I knew the lyrics to. I guess they’d stuck with me all those years growing up.
We still gathered around the Christmas tree to open our gifts on Christmas Eve (we couldn’t wait until morning.) Chef still cooked his Christmas dinner, Dad still visited, we still ate until we could hardly move. We still celebrated Christmas.
The only thing missing was Mom. It was clear from the occasional silence and the soft sigh that we were all thinking the same thing– she should’ve been there. Leading up to the holiday I thought about what I would’ve bought for her if she was still here. I always tried to get her something great, something she’d really been wanting or looking for. One year it was the Big Love box set. One year it was a huge gold-colored Buddha that she placed on top of her dresser. (That was when I still lived at home and she had to drive me to go pick it up. Trying to hide that from her until we got home was interesting!) This year, I have no idea what I would’ve gotten her. For some reason, it really bothered me.
But, we all got through it. Somehow, in our own different ways, we got through the first Christmas without her, just like we got through the first Thanksgiving without her, the first birthday, and in July we will get through the first anniversary of her passing. And maybe next Christmas my cookies will come out the way Mom’s always did.