When my parents separated I was glad. Even at the age of 10 I was aware that the divorce meant less arguments, throwing of objects and sulking in my life. But despite the fact that I knew my parents were not a very successful combination, I always wanted us all to spend Christmas together. Because Christmas is a family holiday. I could not imagine sitting down at Christmas dinner with only my sister and one of my parents. For one thing 3 felt like too small a number of people for a proper celebration, and I could not imagine leaving one of my parents to celebrate alone. Until I was 15 my family did come together at Christmas, although not without fights. I remember celebrating Christmas at my father’s place and walking half an hour in the rain to get my mother from her apartment, because she was angry and refusing to come. But even on Christmas Eve having my mother there was worth the long miserable rainy walk.
At the age of 15 I moved to Belgium with my sister and my father, leaving my mother in Finland. After that we were no longer able to celebrate Christmas as a family and the decision was made to alternate between Helsinki and Brussels. Me and my sister soon discovered that the best Christmases were those spent in Finland. My mother had always been the parent that was excited about Christmas, while my father tended to become extremely stressed. This was no surprise since my mother was very much the “carpe diem” kind of person, who regularly drove my father crazy by spending the little money we had right after salary day. We were not wealthy and it was not easy for my parents to buy us lots of presents. In fact, the way we found out that Santa Claus did not exist was when my parents needed to answer our questions about the seemingly unfair distribution of presents between us and the mean rich kids. Were we not nice enough? The answer was simply that Santa did not exist and we were poor.
Well back to the new Christmas configuration post the 1996 move to Brussels. The discovery I made was that Christmases with only 3 people was not only possible but could be wonderful. No more stress and arguments. The years we were going to Finland we called our mother about Christmas starting in October. We were all excited like children about the holidays. Nowadays when I remember Christmas, those are the ones I remember. The Christmas shopping with cozy tea&pastry breaks. The smell of Christmas ham in the morning, after it spent the night in the oven. My mother preparing the food while we decorate. The dinner, the presents. Spending Christmas day in our pyjamas watching tv and reading, while munching on chocolate and left-overs.
This is not to say that Christmases with my father were not great as well. I have many precious memories from the Christmases we spent together. But he never got as excited as we were, and the knowledge that my mother was spending her Christmas alone would somewhat dampen my spirits.
Then in 2007 my mother passed away after many years of struggling with COPD. Among many other things, this changed my Christmases forever. I know that I will never capture that same joy that I felt about Christmas when it meant going to Finland and being with her. Christmas will always bring with it this small sense of loss, when I remember how the holidays used to be. I still love Christmas, but there is something a little hollow about my Christmas cheer, as if I am playing the role of the person I was before she passed away. Christmas is a period when the loss of loved ones is felt very keenly, and I know I am not alone in missing someone around Christmas. Especially this Christmas my heart goes out to the families of the children lost in the recent school shooting, and I imagine that their Christmases will never be the same again.
Despite everything Christmas is still my favourite holiday. Nowadays I spend Christmas Eve with my father’s new family, which currently consists of my father and his wife, their two daughters (8 and 11 years old) and two dogs (Black Lab and German Shepherd). When you add me and my sister with boyfriends, we get a nice big family get-together. Spending Christmas with children certainly adds a certain something to the day. My stepmother always cooks an enormous dinner, often including both the traditional Finnish ham and the Belgian turkey. In addition there are vegetarian options for my father who does not eat meat. Everybody gets plenty of presents, including the dogs, and at the end of the evening we go home, feeling happy and well fed.
Family is important around Christmas, but who is included in that family can change and develop. Maybe one day my family will just be me, my boyfriend and a dog. But as my experience shows, 3 is a large enough number for Christmas.