Christmas hasn’t been the same since my mum, Anna, died ten years ago. After all this time I'm still uncertain what to do. Every year I wonder if I should stick with the old family traditions but without her they are less robust and over time have faded away. All I have carried from one Christmas to another was grief.
The season had lost the infectious energy Anna brought to it. For her, the lead up to Christmas involved much kitchen activity. She busied herself making home-made pasta for the big day, baking fruit pies and home-made cassata ice cream. She filled the pantry with biscuits and cakes to share. She prepared food hampers for charity, starting well months beforehand, buying a little something to put aside every week. She participated in Samaritan’s Purse shoe-box program, and filled shoe-boxes full of small gifts for children in overseas aid programs. She thought about what gifts to give members of her family and friends, and lovingly wrapped each one. Always a superb cook, Anna excelled herself at Christmas, producing a feast, refusing to let anyone do anything to help. Finally, she would sit down with the family around her, the happiness on her face obvious. Now the empty chair at the table magnifies my loss.
Countless people make this same journey without a loved one through the festive season each year and it never becomes less painful. There is no road map to follow, no rest stops to relieve the pain, no directions as to the best way through. Grief has its own crooked path and travels it at its own pace. Last Christmas for the first time I broke the cycle. Instead of a home-based celebration, we had a picnic near the Yarra River. It felt relaxed and dissipated the pressure to maintain what we’d always done in the past. Through that choice, I reclaimed our celebrations, perhaps establishing a new tradition.
This year an aunt is traveling from Italy to celebrate with us. It’s been over fifty years since Dad shared a Christmas table with his youngest sibling. She was five years old and he twenty-four. If Mum were here, she’d cook and fuss and make everything welcoming. Although I can’t cook and fuss like she did, I can make things welcoming and emulate that aspect of her approach to the celebrations. So this is our new Christmas; at the heart of it, still at the heart of it a shared feast even if it's on a picnic rug. It feels right.
I'm sure Anna would approve.