Kathy and I bought our house in the spring of 1984 and hosted our first Christmas that next December. With just two exceptions, we hosted every Christmas family gathering ever since. Both of our families came and in our heyday we had more than 35 people. Over the last few years, nieces and nephews who started coming as babies, came with husbands, wives, significant others, and kids of their own.
We spent a lot of time preparing and decorating. Over time we’ve accumulated lots of decorations. Kathy was a teacher and often got Christmas ornaments from her students. She loved her students and cherished those gifts. Each was kept in its original box on which Kath wrote the student’s name and date. She wanted it that way so that every year she could remember the child and the gift as she put it on the tree. As the years passed, the number of ornaments grew and I put more on the tree but the concept still worked.
My birthday is in December so we would get the tree and decorate it the weekend closest to my birthday. Preparing for the big Christmas gathering was a lot of work but we both loved doing it. Although, in truth, my favorite part was debriefing with Kathy after everyone left. I was so often serving food and clearing so we could put out the deserts, that the party swirled around me. That time on Christmas night when we rehashed everything was the best.
Kathy died in September and I decided to host again this year. A friend came my birthday weekend and helped with the tree. People pitched in to help. I think 24 people came this year. The party still swirled around me, partially because I was managing the food and clean up, and partially because I’m still having a lot of shock. The families were very loving and supportive but I crashed after everyone left.
Today I took the tree down and put away the ornaments and decorations. I also set aside a large box to give my niece who just bought a house and will have her first tree next season. I put many of the ornaments I am keeping in their original boxes. I read the student’s names and actually remembered many. And, I cried a lot. So, now it’s done. The tree is gone. Although I am incredibly sad, I know those years and all those Christmases were a very special gift.