The last Christmas my father celebrated was in 2004. It was not a merry Christmas at all, not because we knew it was going to be my father's last but because my mother's dementia and a host of other problems made her behavior simiar to how I imagine a Grizzly Bear would act if you snuck up on it and yanked out one of its claws. She could not help herself, however, and while I know that now, at that time she was so confused, so angry, and so hostile, and it seemed to happen so suddenly, we were all vulnerable to the change and it was a very difficult time.
In 2005, as a family we were all still very much shouldering the loss of Dad and very much missing him at Christmas. Mother's confusion was powerful and she had become a master at hiding or working around it. She managed to be roused into a bit of celebration for the holiday but she was very confused, tired and sad, and her dim light of holiday joy faded quickly. In 2006, depression kept her mostly uninterested in Christmas. We celebrated but she did not get out of bed.
Before those Christmases, I always relished in going home for the holiday, even if home was a place I no longer lived but where my family could be found. Christmas was celebrated in a large way at our house. For most of my life, my parents hosted an Open House on Christmas day. By late afternoon, our house was filled with family and friends of all ages, and the tables were topped with smoked turkeys, salmon, ham, tenderloin, roast beef, an array of sauces and mustards, and cheeses, oh the cheeses, wheels of Baby Swiss, blocks of cheddar, and rounds of Brie, and plenty of champagne and punch.
When Christmas 2007 rolled around, I could not stay in Houston. I wanted a happy Christmas, a merry Christmas. I wanted it for the kids and I wanted it for myself. I reserved a cabin in Durango, Colorado, and we had a wonderful holiday in a snowy and mountainous backdrop. We did the same in 2008, except the cabin was high in the mountains of New Mexico. I needed for Christmas to be radically different than it had in years past or in my childhood, so that I could embrace the day and not feel overwhelmed by the loss of my parents, by the changes in my life that were completely out of my control, and by my realization that it was up to me to give my nieces and nephew happy holidays.
In 2009, we decided to spend the holiday at our own cabin, on the Colorado river. No snow, but a happy little family celebrating in a familiar and special place.
I have planned and organized each of the past four Christmas celebrations because I wanted to keep my two nieces and my nephew very close at Christmas. We are a little family, the four of us, and I wanted to provide them with a happy Christmas as well as a sense of peace and connection, in addition to the providing the framework for our celebration of the holiday.
This year, we celebrated the holiday at my house. It occurs to me that I no longer go home for Christmas, I provide the home. It's one of the many things passed to me from my parents, and I whole-heartedly embrace this very important baton. This year, I've had a full house. My youngest niece arrived December 10th; her boyfriend arrived on the 22nd. Sadly, they leave tomorrow. My oldest niece arrived on the 18th and left on the 23rd to spend the holiday with her boyfriend's family. My nephew and his precious daughter have been here throughout. And, of course, Cheyenne.
Yes, this year my house became the home where family went for the holidays. A full and happy house it has been!