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Sweatpants & Soul | Healing Beneath the Christmas Tree

By Hannah Fields

Since childhood, I’ve always viewed the Christmas season as a magical time of year. Despite the chill of the December air, there is also a certain warmth and coziness that comes along with it. At night, ordinary neighborhoods are once again transformed into wondrous displays of twinkling lights accented by the cheery glow of Christmas trees. Sugar cookies taste sweeter, hot chocolate makes its annual debut, and children carefully pen letters to Santa while he makes his list and checks it twice.

Each of these little moments are wrapped up in neat bows of love and nostalgia that send my mind wandering to the coveted Christmases of my youth. It was a time where fairy tales still held the glittering hope of truth and family traditions had yet to wear with the passage of time. I needn’t go any further than my parent’s living room to find wonderment. All I had to do way lie down beneath the tree and look up into its brightly lit branches to be transported into another world. However, it was my grandparents’ home that was my one true winter wonderland.

Come Christmas time, my Memaw would set her decorating skills to work from the living room to the kitchen to the den. Tiny elves were perched on the piano, eyes sparkling as lights from the tree caught their eye. The white doily tablecloth on the dining room table was exchanged for something more seasonably appropriate and topped with poinsettias. Décor lined their long fireplace, my favorites being a cheerful Santa in a rocking chair and a mini replica of a hearth adorned with stockings bearing the names of all their children and grandchildren. I also mustn’t forget the glass bowls that never seemed to run out of candy or saltwater taffy, one of my grandfather’s coveted holiday treats next to peanut patties.

My grandparents’ home was also where one of my favorite family traditions took place each year. My family would draw names and then meet at their home on Christmas Eve to eat dinner together and exchange gifts. Of course, my grandparents would go above and beyond, their gifts varying for each person. An example being my grandfather buying jewelry for all the girls (I still have two rings and an earring and necklace set that I look after like a pirate looks after his treasure). Then, on Christmas Day, we would return to their home to share another meal. At this time, my cousins and I could still fit around the round “kid’s table” where we’d share giggles while discussing the various gifts we had received. Despite all of the fun, I still felt sadness when the day ended because it meant I would have to wait another year for this day to return with its splendor.

As the years moved on, things began to change. When I turned fifteen, my Memaw passed on the Christmas decorating to me—a task that always caused a giddy feeling to bubble up within me. I’d spend an entire afternoon taking boxes from storage and carefully setting up each decoration with care. Once the task was complete, I would seek out my Memaw and ask for her opinion of my handiwork. She would always smile and tell me how beautiful everything looked and my grandfather would echo her sentiments in his own gruff grandfatherly way. They never failed to make me feel as if I hung the moon and I never wanted anything to change.

However, time has a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it. In January of 2010, my grandfather was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. The devastating blow didn’t seem real, especially after we had only just celebrated another lovely Christmas together a few weeks prior. I hoped and prayed that things would get better, that he would get better, but they only went from bad to worse. After several painful bouts with chemo, my grandfather declined further treatment and he was laid to rest in March of that year.

Needless to say, Christmas was never quite the same after that. I still kept my duty of decorating my Memaw’s home, missing only one year while I was completing my master’s degree in Scotland. While I still enjoyed being in her home, the season felt dimmer without my grandfather around. My Memaw’s health also began to decline throughout the years. The progression of her Parkinson’s disease kept her from enjoying family functions and our traditions were harder to keep with everyone growing up and adopting new plans of their own. Funny how life works that way.

This year, Christmas is enduring yet another change: the passing of my precious Memaw in July. My heart has yet to recover from the loss and it has made this season feel as if there is a heavy cloud hanging over it. Thinking back to last year, I wonder if I would’ve spent the holiday differently had I known it would be our last together. The answer is no. I was able to decorate her home and I had the opportunity to curl up next to her and watch White Christmas. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

As for her Christmas decorations, well, I’ve inherited some of them. This year I decorated her tree again except I couldn’t help but think it looked so out of place set against the offwhite walls of my apartment. Her tablecloth seems too long for my dining table and the décor seems like it belongs somewhere else. I kept wondering if my grandparents would approve of this new setup or if they thought the tree needed just a bit more tinsel. It was enough to make me sit down in the middle of my living room floor and cry.

As heartbreaking as all of this may be, there are still glimmers of magic that have survived. Having the tree and the decorations makes it feel like I have a little piece of my grandparents in my home. The memories that I’ve been lucky enough to hold on to are enough to chase the melancholia away. The love I experienced is enough to inspire me to share it with others. That’s what I think Christmas is really about, anyway. And, above all, I know that when the upcoming days seem too hard, all I have to do is lay beneath the Christmas tree.

 

Hannah Fields is a writer and editor by profession and a coffee junkie by choice. When she isn’t seeking out her next adventure, she is an avid reader, music enthusiast, and part-time poet. You can join her on her blog www.thepanoramicdynamic.com, Instagram @Oh_Panorama, and Twitter @Oh_Panorama. 

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