The time leading into Christmas is usually a time of anticipation but always coloured with sadness for me. Another wedding anniversary is remembered – alone. The shopping, wrapping and giving of gifts is done – alone. Flowers are laid on a grave – alone. Decorations are pulled out and arranged – alone. Church is attended – alone. This has been the norm for me for the last 6 Christmas celebrations.
This year, with the encouragement of my Boys, I decided to do something different …. so I have traveled to my childhood home, New Zealand, to spend Christmas with my extended family.
I have, so enjoyed the special Christmas touches in the homes I have been lucky enough to be staying in. Some old and memory inducing, many handcrafted and made with love, all adding to the festive times being celebrated.
The Christmas trees have been beautifully decorated, just waiting for the parcels to be added beneath their splendour.
I have been blessed to be able to visit with cousins, aunts, uncles and friends from University days. Some I have not seen for 30+ years! How easily relationships return and feel natural! Age has given us perspective and wisdom but has not lessened the memories or ability to laugh and love.
So as I prepare for a big family celebration this Christmas – I am truly blessed to not be alone!
When you have been married to a Preacher Man, no matter how many years ago, when he dies, your memories good and bad will always be tied to those special Christian festivals.
I love the holiday celebrations. They have always been my thing. It started as a child for me, when my hard-working parents couldn’t afford many extras during the year but at birthdays and Christmas and Easter we were spoilt with gifts and food and church festivals. Don’t get me wrong – we never went without anything on a day-to-day basis – but excess was often the go at holiday time! Rituals were begun and followed. Like the yearly Christmas visit to my Dad’s brother’s place, where my Aunty always had her tree decorated with lollipops! Or the fact that Mum always included a religious gift with our Easter eggs. I remember with delight a beautiful pink twinkley cross to wear around my neck and my Living Bible that was all the rage in the 1970’s. Christmas was church and carols and Advent Dinners and beaches and new dresses for the Sunday School Nativity.
I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand in a church with many European nationalities. Each of those wonderful families brought a lot of their home culture to my Mandy Christmas tradition that was being moulded. Candles were always important, as was music, food, and seasonal colours. A real tree was much-loved and decorated with the symbols of God’s gift to us. The Advent Wreath, that dripped candle wax on you, at Communion time, if you were not careful. And Carol singing will always begin in my mind with
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
and end with
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
So it was not surprising to me, that I chose to get married during Advent to my Preacher Man. The church was decorated with the previously mentioned Advent Wreath and there were pine fronds in the church flowers. I was presented with a beautifully decorated rolling-pin to carry from a Swedish family, which I cherish to this day.
And so my own family tradition began! Adrian’s family were not much on tradition, so it took few years to train my Preacher Man up on what was expected. A real tree was found and decorated with love and family heirloom decorations. If money was tight, as many presents as you could buy for a set amount must be bought and each item must be wrapped individually! The Advent Dinner must be full of purple and candles and Carols. Then as our Boys arrived, more traditions developed with decorations galore, many with a European touch and presents opened on Christmas Eve, after church, as a nod to both of our German heritage. The Boxing Day test match on TV was never missed. Our family celebrated the Christian holidays with gusto – both Christmas and Easter.
They were our favourite ….. and then Adrian died …… on an Easter Monday!
How to go on? Not only on a day by day basis but those special holidays that were all of a sudden raw and full of pain. He would want us to celebrate. After arriving in our marriage with little or no Christmas celebratory spirit, Adrian, in his last years questioned why the Christmas tree couldn’t stay up all year long! He loved it!
I go through the motions of Advent – the season of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Christ Child but also the coming of another wedding anniversary – spent alone. I buy and wrap each gift with love and thoughtfulness but when I sign the card from Mandy or Mum or Aunty Mandy and not Mandy & Adrian or Mum & Dad or Aunty Mandy & Uncle Adrian, there is always a lump in my throat and a sadness in my heart. I decorate the tree using the old and much-loved family decorations, wishing it could stay up all year long.
The same occurs at Easter time where my heart is grateful for God’s sacrifice of his Son but empty at the loss we experienced at this time almost six years ago. But my Preacher Man would want me to continue the traditions we forged as a family in the 30 years we spent together. For our Boys and their future families and for those around me that help me through these times. I try to continue making meaningful rituals that symbolize that life continues and we take our memories with us as we move on.
I am grateful for the reminders of God’s grace and love and the certainty of being reunited in eternity. I can acknowledge the peace that passes all understanding but I give myself the permission to struggle through these wonderful celebratory days, with my heart brimming and my eyes glistening with love and loss. And if I choose to be quiet and withdraw from life some days – that’s acceptable too!