As Emily and I drove back to the city from my Aunt Sharon’s house, with bellies full of Christmas dinner, my eyes filled unexpectedly with tears. It was difficult to put my finger on what caused this emotional outburst since it had been a great day of exchanging presents, eating delicious food and hanging out with my family. I love Christmas and always have.
I’m at the age now where the joy of the holiday has fully shifted from receiving to giving. I was much more excited to be buying things for folks and could think of very little that I actually wanted for myself. Having Emily there as a partner was icing on the cake.
The fact that we are getting married has reinvigorated each of our inquisitive natures, and having my family’s faces so fresh in her mind, she started asking me about past holiday traditions.
“Used to be that we all went to my grandparents’ house in Narrowsburg for Christmas 0dinner. They had a small fake tree, and I just remember stacks and stacks of presents. [She nods.] I mean I was a kid. [She laughs.]
“That tradition sort of changed when my parents got divorced. After that Christmas became much more of a negotiation of where I would be and for how long. I used to envy my friends who got to stay in one place for the whole day. They always seemed like they were on less of a schedule.”
The road silently whirred under the car as the bright lights of the city emerged in the distance.
“It seems like much of tradition is based on the oldest members of the family, and it wasn’t until my grandparents died that I noticed everything change.”
Just hearing me say it all out loud choked me up. Boiling it all down like this, I started to see a pattern: change. Suddenly it all felt so fleeting.
My Uncle Rob’s death surged into my mind. He was the first unexpected loss of someone close to me, and I was filled with a twinge of regret. I wish I had gotten to spend more time with him, and in this moment it is so painfully clear that I had never really made that a priority.
When you are a kid, things seem like they will just go on forever; there’s no reason to think about mortality. (It's hard enough just making it from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning.) But then life starts to happen. Time starts to speed up. Things get more complicated. People come and, sadly, they go.
Emily put her hand on my knee. “What’s wrong?” she asked, and I didn’t know exactly how to explain it.
“It all just seems like it’s passing so very quickly.”
Maybe the tears were for my youth (this is my 30th Christmas) and the fact that I’m grown now. Maybe they were for family members lost and the regret of what could have been.
Or maybe, they aren’t sad at all, for my Cousin Cecily’s two young girls were at their grandmother’s house (my aunt Sharon) this Christmas, and to watch them rip open gifts and squeal with excitement reminded me so clearly of a time when life was simple and things seemed like they would just go on forever.