It is going to take more than sugar cookies this Christmas…

 The weather is unseasonably warm in Vermont. Winter is slow to start. Little to no snow has refreshed our landscape. Rain is hardly festive in New England at Christmas time.  

We have decorated our little yellow house on the hill even more than usual this holiday season and certainly earlier than we might have in years past. A festive effort to make things appear normal when they simply are not. Decorating our Christmas Tree this year is for my husband and I only. The pandemic will keep us socially distant from the small family we love to gather with each holiday season. The tree stands tall and shines brightly but is empty underneath. We also feel a little empty inside this holiday season. Gifts have been purchased and shipped. Grateful to be able to have done so. Hard to believe it has been nearly a year since we last gathered and were blissfully unaware of what 2020 would bring.

A large cardboard moving box that houses our collection of Christmas ornaments takes up a fair amount of the real estate in our cozy living room while Tony Bennett sings “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Not this year. A few ornaments have simply been inherited but the majority tell the story of a family. Christmas decorations are as familiar as old friends. Favorites are placed on the front of the tree leaving the back predictably sparse. 

Digging deep into the storage box I pick up one of my very favorite ornaments “Baby’s First Christmas.” I have held this ornament more times than I care to admit as my daughter is a mother herself this year. My mother had purchased this ornament commemorating the year of our daughter Emily’s birth and her first Christmas. I purchased a personalized Baby’s First Christmas ornament this year for our granddaughter precisely for the same reason. A stack of lettered wooden blocks spells out the word “baby.” I held the familiar ornament in my hands longer than usual remembering my parents and reflecting on our new granddaughter celebrating her first Christmas during a pandemic. How quickly time had passed since this particular ornament was newly relevant. I moved the ornament from one hand to the other, studying it for what felt like the first time. Stalling to hang this set of blocks as I wanted to hold on to the many moments of love this ornament represented. Noticing for the very first time some familiar handwriting on the bottom. My daughter’s name with the words love, Papa and Grammy jumped off the tan hard plastic surface. I had never noticed the inscription before as we probably were rushing to decorate the tree but tonight, we were amply afforded uninterrupted time. The black sharpie marker signature could not have been more beautiful even if it had been gilded in gold. My father’s unmistakable handwriting, I am certain it was he as he was a great believer in documenting for posterity. I was happy for the reminder of my wonderful parents and how they cared so much about the details of our lives.

The tree beautifully appointed with handmade painted pinecones boasting the image of imitation snow. One pinecone still with my son’s name written in pencil on a folded piece of masking tape attached with red yarn. Kindergarten or quite possibly preschool years. My daughter’s first grade school photograph and a doily used to decorate an ornament in the shape of a snowflake. Perfection. The irony of the new black and white buffalo plaid bow that proudly sits on the top of the tree as nothing feels black and white these days but instead shades of gray. I don’t know what this quiet Christmas will be like, but I am hopeful that next year we will all gather and celebrate together again….

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” Aristotle

Author: Elizabeth Ricketson

A graduate of Providence College with a BA in English, Elizabeth Ricketson has always had a love of literature and the fine arts. Elizabeth’s essays focus on life experiences and life in Vermont.

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