Christmas — well, really, the whole Advent season — was enormous in my family as I grew up. From my earliest childhood I remember my grandmother creating beaded Christmas crafts (and who can forget the Three Wise Men with velvet cone bodies and featureless faces made of nylons over styrofoam balls?) There were huge family dinners, at my grandparents' and then at our house later on. We went to holiday shows. There were cookies and breads and lefse. There were gifts that satisfied your deepest longings and thanks for gifts you gave in kind.
My mother wasn't one to ever give you cash, or even its cousin, the gift card. She had an incredible ability to figure out what you needed to accomplish your goal, or what you were giving up or skimping on to achieve it, and then give that to you. When I redid the bathroom, she bought me a candelabra, so I could burn candles while in the bath. The year we decided to forego travel to deal with some other major expenses, she took us all to Florida. Even when she was too sick to shop, she sent out friends to buy things on the lists she put together for everyone.
That all changed on Christmas Day, 2006, when my mother died. In truth, since my mother was in the hospital for the previous two weeks, we basically skipped that Christmas. I remember thinking "Just please don't let her die on Christmas, whatever happens." When she did, the whole holiday had fundamentally changed.
The next Christmas, I was 7 months pregnant, and the next one, we had a 10-month-old baby who was already able to understand the joy of it, and as much as the holiday still left a deep, jagged hole in me, I had to acknowledge it had changed again.
Years later, I decided to do something for myself this Christmas. I had coveted these shoes for months, but they were ridiculously priced. I tried them on again and again, stalked them on the internet, pictured them with every outfit I owned. But every time I turned back.
As we passed Thanksgiving this year and entered the holiday season, I could feel the cold pain beginning again, at the same time that Beatrix began singing Christmas carols and opening her advent calendar.
So I decided to be my own mom. I went out and bought the shoes, and told myself they were from my mom. and when I wore them the first time tonight, to a holiday party and then to a concert, it made me it seem a little more like she was still here.
If you see me wearing these shoes (this holiday season or otherwise), you'll know I'm thinking of my mom. And re-building Christmas, bit by bit.