I think everyone in my family can agree that my mother was the one who made Christmas. We could never do as well as she had. We could never make the home feel warm and loving without her help. But we try. I was asked to write about Christmas, and what it means with my family and traditions . I didn’t want to. But to be honest, I tried to pretend like I didn’t hear the request…and ignore it (shucks, it was in email form with a trail). It just becomes real and painful.
But doing that would be going against what she knew I loved doing. It would be going against my career, and not sharing everything I’ve loved about her and our family.
Six years ago my mother got really sick, diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia. She was told she had 2 years to live. But with the strength and determination that my sister and I have, she is still with us.
Every Christmas, she would make me climb on top of the roof to put up lights, only to panic and yell at me to get down (she literally sent me up there). “You’re gonna break something!” She would love these old, awful decorations (you know the plastic big light up Santas, and reindeer?) to put in the front yard. The inside of the home would be decorated so nice. Luxurious draperies in the rooms with garland and random little decorations. She also loved putting tree trimmings from our tree in random flowers, all over the house so the pine smell was everywhere. She played Polish Christmas carols all month long, while cooking in the most ridiculous looking aprons (that I wear now). She had chocolates in glass bowls all around the house. And when we would put up the tree, she would tell us stories about how ,when she was little (just after World War 2 in Poland) they would hang wrapped candies and pine cones as ornaments on the tree. OH, and walnuts- you hammer a nail in and tie a string and it becomes an ornament. She loved hideous garland. And nothing matched. And it was the best tree ever.
She would tell me how her family was so poor, sometimes the only thing she was able to get for Christmas was an orange. She was ecstatic. She made it last as long as she could. Oranges would have been expensive there at that time, and definitely not in season. Especially after living in a time where there were still rations. Her diet ultimately ended up being all fruits when she moved to the US. She could kill a bag of apples in a day.
I think her favorite story to tell me was how much she loved ice skating during the winter in Poland. Except she didn’t have skates. One day she found a random skate in the trash. Just one. She used it on each foot. One foot at a time. Until she learned.
Her stories are what I remember. She made Christmas for me. And every Christmas Eve during Wigilia, she would wish that I do the best I could in school, and my career, and to find love. I knew her health was declining when she wished I would finally have a baby. School and marriage always came first to her, for me. And it wouldn’t be a Christmas if her and my father didn’t argue and still love each other at the end of the day. That too, became tradition.
I can’t tell you what she got me when I was little, as gifts. We didn’t have much money. But I can tell you what she did get me before she got sick- a crock pot, a blender set, a brown blanket (that I carry around like Linus from The Peanuts Gang), and a pair of black boots.
She can not walk, talk, feed herself, bathe herself, etc. But she recognizes us, she shows emotion, she understands what’s going on around her. And although she would have never wanted to live this way, she is comfortable at home. We try our hardest to make Christmas for both her and my dad, to keep traditions going, to decorate and be happy with them.
I feel people have lost touch in what the meaning of the holidays really is. Presents are amazing and fun, but I can tell you that the one thing I want most for my family, is love and good health, wishes of them getting better, and memories. More memories that I can pass down. Cherish your family and your loved ones this and every holiday.