“I’m knee-deep in Christmas right now. In fact, a friend of mine came over the other night, took one look at my bedroom, paused and asked, ‘What is going on in here?’ Presents everywhere, wrapping paper, tape, scissors–you know, the six pairs I found in my daughter’s room that she ‘didn’t have.’ A total holiday mess, but one I’ve obviously created for myself.
I recently asked my kids what their favorite part of Christmas morning was. ‘Stockings,’ they said. Well, that and the cinnamon rolls I purposely mess up every year. Why? Because the first year I tried to make them, they were a disaster. Yes, you’re supposed to make them with the real pudding, and when you make them with instant, well, they just don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to. But they ate them nonetheless, even if they were as hard as a rock, because no point in ticking off your mom on the big day, right?
It’s a funny thing about messing things up. When I was a little girl, there are things I specifically remember about Christmas. I remember how the house filled up with the scent of a fresh-cut Christmas tree when my parents dragged it in. I remember the excitement of pulling out the stockings. I remember my mom explaining the meaning behind every ornament. I remember how carefully we had to take the Nativity scene out of the storage boxes, and the little collection of Dickens houses my mom had set up in the living room. I remember staying up for midnight Mass and wearing my best outfit. I remember the way everything felt, and how even in the middle of a warm west coast December, we all still felt like we were tucked away in a lodge during a snowstorm somewhere. It was almost magical how she made that happen, to be honest. I also remember hearing The Carpenter’s Christmas album playing on the radio and thinking it was my mom singing because her voice mirrored Karen Carpenter so well and I had no reason not to believe it was my mom on the airwaves. After all, she was and still is, a superstar to me.
And, in the middle of all the Christmas hoopla, I remember making crafts at school. Every year, every class, we made something to take home to give our parents. But the one that stands out to me the most was in second grade, circa 1979. Our teacher tasked us with making little wreaths out of mini pretzels. Okay, easy enough. You just glued them together in a circle, fed the ribbon through it, tied it up with a bow and voila – mini pretzel wreath ornaments. We worked hard on those, you know. It wasn’t simple for little hands to maneuver them in just the right way, and it certainly wasn’t easy to not just want to play with the glue. But, we did it, and we were proud of ourselves. And when we were done, we wrapped them in tissue and gently placed them in our backpacks.
And then we walked home. With our friends. And sometimes we ran. And we batted our backpacks at the boys we liked and jumped over puddles and did all the things that 8-year-olds do. So, by the time I got home, and shimmied out of my backpack and threw it inside the foyer of my Christmas-decorated home, I forgot about that ornament. That was, until I suddenly remembered in the middle of dinner, jumped out of my chair, and made a beeline to the front door to retrieve it. I brought the backpack back to the table, excited to give it to my mom. I pulled everything out. A math test. A half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A textbook. My homework. And then there it was, at the bottom of the backpack: a wreath wrapped in tissue. I reached in to grab it and I instinctively knew something was wrong. It was flat. It was crumbly. It wasn’t a wreath anymore. It wasn’t anything but a pile of pretzel dust.
My heart sank. My jaw dropped. My little eyes filled with tears. My mom said she loved it anyway. I don’t know how long it took me to cry, but when I did, I ran from the table and jumped headfirst on my bed, refusing to come out. I had ruined Christmas. I had one thing to give my mom and I destroyed it. My mom tried to console me. She pet my hair. I’m sure she sang to me. But there was no amount of lullabies or reassurances that was going to fix the fact that my wreath, and my little heart, were broken.
I cried myself to sleep, waking up the next morning with puffy eyes and tear-stained hair. I could smell the bacon sizzling and the faint sounds of a Christmas carol coming from the kitchen. This was no time to celebrate, I thought. It might be a new day, but I couldn’t shake the thought of my personal disaster hanging over my head because there was just no way to fix it.
I shuffled towards the Christmas tree, watching the lights twinkle, coyly checking out the presents underneath. I was still upset. Still pouting, taking the risk that Santa would see and not come to my house that night. I crossed my arms and pushed out my lower lip, looking down at my backpack and then back to the tree. I quickly saw it but didn’t believe it. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I moved closer to it. I tried to focus.
Was it real? Could it be? Was it really possible? How…? My eyes grew. My voice shook. I jumped. I pointed. I shrieked. I ran to the kitchen and found her there. I tugged on her pants. ‘Mom! Mom! You are never going to believe this!’
She knelt beside me. ‘What is it, darlin’?’ I grabbed her hand and led her through the rooms. We stopped at the tree. “What? What are you showing me, sweetheart?’
‘Look, momma. Look.’
She saw it too. She reached up and gently touched it. The wreath ornament. Fully intact. She gasped. ‘Well, look at that.’ She was just as surprised as I was. ‘It’s Christmas magic.’ I nodded. Of course, it was.
She never told me the truth, you know. Not even to this day. I am 47 years old and she will still tell anybody who will listen that on December 24th, 1979, there was some kind of unexplained Christmas magic that put that wreath back together. Every time she hangs that ornament on the tree, she will deny that she had a hand in fixing it. She will never tell me, and she will never tell you, that after I cried myself to sleep that night, that she got in her car and drove to the store and bought a bag of pretzels and glue and sat at the dining room table and made another one. She will never tell us that she ran the ribbon through it and made a bow and hung it from the tree using the same string that my teacher had given us. She will never admit that even though she was tired or worn out from the day or that she had a list of other things she needed to do–that she put all of that aside to fix her daughter’s wreath and fix her broken heart.
No, she’s going to forever let us believe in magic.
Oh, my momma friends. I know you’re tired. I know Christmas is a lot. I know you are running around with coffee stains on your shirts, and somehow, you’re managing it all on four hours of sleep. You’re shopping, you’re wrapping, you’re budgeting, you’re decorating, you’re making cookies, and you’re planning great surprises.
And, some of you are fixing broken wreaths.
Because like her, you are magic. Don’t ever forget that.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book “Grief Life” is available in print and kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
Read more powerful stories from Diana:
‘You didn’t pay your bill for 3 months.’ No need to rub it in, electric company lady. ‘I have a baby up in here!’ I lied.’: Widow hilariously recalls why she forgot to pay the electric bill, lies to cover her tracks
‘Please don’t cry,’ I mumbled. ‘It’s a tree. It’s just a tree.’ And then it happened, full blown tears.’: Mom realizes teenage daughter’s meltdown was triggered by loss of father, ‘No matter how many presents I buy, nothing can heal her pain’
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