Christmas is a special time for every family. As an immigrant family, far from home, parents, siblings and cousins, we created our own traditions over more than thirty years – everything from the number of trees we put up, to their decorations, to food and presents.
It’s a common belief that the ‘first’ of anything after a divorce (or death) is the hardest, but I’m not sure that’s true. That first year I remained in total shock as the ‘firsts’ rolled around. My daughter gave birth to her first child – a wee boy – two days before that ‘first’ Christmas, so mixed in with all that grief, there was a huge amount of joy.
For me the ‘seconds’ were the hardest, because that’s when it became real. This was what it was going to be like for the rest of my life. Also, by two years in, my friends and family felt I should be ‘over’ it so it wasn’t something anyone except friends who had been through similar experiences really understood..
Navigating these past few years, as Christmas has taken on a whole new shape, has been tricky. While life generally bumps along, it’s at times like this, when society suggests that families should be at their happiest and closest, when those family fractures feel deeper than ever.
But while many of those Christmases over my 37 years of married life have blurred into one, I’ve had a couple of experiences over the past few years that have made these Christmases amongst the most special of my life.
The first came about in November 2015, about 8 months after my husband left me. I’d gone back to Scotland and was visiting an old friend. She’s known me (and my ex) forever, and tears were streaming down my face as I told her what had happened. A little while later, she handed me a small parcel. When I opened it, I discovered it was a handmade cross stitch Merry Christmas Banner. “I want you to have something new, something special this Christmas,” she said. “Something that has nothing to do with him or your past.” She’d started making it for me not long after she found out the news of my separation. The work- and thought – that went into each stitch, made me feel so loved and protected.
The second…? Last year my daughter invited me to stay over at her place on Christmas Eve so that I could be there on Christmas morning to see my grandson’s reaction to his presents under the tree. It was an experience I will never forget and one I would never have had if I’d still been married. Forget the pile of presents, his eyes went as wide as saucers when he saw that Santa had ‘drinked the drink’ he had left out for him the night before.
Drinked the drink.
A beautiful innocent phrase born out of pain and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.