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Christmas

Christmas has meant different things to me at different times in my life…

As a child I can remember the excitement and anticipation as Christmas day drew nearer. Waking at dawn and my sister and I creeping down the hall to see what surprise awaited us (and in later years enjoying watching that same excitement experienced by our younger brother)…reading the letter Father Christmas invariably left for us, along with the few crumbs left on the plate of fruit cake we had left for him… Father Christmas doing his rounds of our neighbourhood; distributing sweets to the children who flocked out of their houses, a skip in their step, smiles lighting up their faces…the magic of candles by candlelight at a nearby park (real candles!)…the wonder of all the Christmas lights, the cards, decorating the tree…finding a 5cent piece wrapped up in alfoil in the Christmas Pudding…tied up with days at the beach, outdoor fun, friends, family, camping in the back yard…the true magic of Christmas…

Through my 20’s & early 30’s Christmas time meant time off university or work…those glorious summer holidays! A time for friends & family, a time for long days at the beach, road trips further south, BBQs, parties, open air cinema & warm, late nights out dancing and having fun. It was less about presents and more about socialising, letting my hair down, freedom & frivolity. Some Christmases were spent abroad…hunting for snow in England & one memorable Christmas with special friends in New Zealand…

And then Tienne arrived in our life and Christmas changed again…in my opinion the very best Christmases are those spent with children – Christmas now for me is about children, about family, about community…a time when nothing else should be more important than spending time with those we hold dearest and closest to our heart. A time when we should think about and reach out to those less fortunate and not dwell on what we haven’t got but truly be thankful for all that we have. The adults in our family no longer give each other presents – I like to think our gift to each other is our company. Due to geography & circumstance we do not catch up often so it is special when we do. Instead we sponsor a little Cambodian girl, Sreymeas, or more directly the community she lives in. Hopefully as the children in our immediate family get older, they will understand and appreciate how fortunate they are, perhaps choose to carry on this tradition we have started for themselves.

This year will be unique though in that I am seeing Christmas through a child’s eyes (that of my nearly 4 year old daughter) but with the grief tinged edges of an adult who is keenly missing the physical presence of our youngest daughter who died December 28 last year. I can’t help but think that this time last year everything was perfect. We had a peaceful, quiet Christmas and were looking forward to the best Christmas present anyone could hope for – a precious new baby daughter, a little sister…

And yet the numbness that is threatening to set in again as it did soon after Saskia died is being kept at bay by the sheer enthusiasm and excitement of Tienne in regard to all things Christmas…I simply cannot ignore (nor do I want to) how beautiful her pure joy & energy is…and so I am allowing myself to get swept away and am helping to fuel her….making decorations, searching out Christmas lights, ‘window shopping’ for Father Christmas & Rudolf, for tinsel and ‘pretend’ presents…seeking out unusual little ‘gems’ to place in her advent calendar that she races down the stairs each morning to check…she is the magic of Christmas herself…and I see a little of me as a child in her, but mostly I see just her and the very special little girl that she is.

We cut down a large branch off one of our pine type trees yesterday and ended up with another one of our quirky ‘bent’ Christmas trees that we love as they are definitely unique! I love that it is not ‘perfect & straight’ although Tienne excitedly stated, “That is the perfect tree!”…and why not…it is perfect for us. Frank’s parents are visiting from England and so it was a lovely opportunity for them to help decorate the tree and to witness Tienne’s enjoyment. I must admit I had a few tough moments…in pulling out the Christmas decorations, discovering both the girls stockings (I had purchased one for Saskia in case she arrived prior to Christmas) and in finding the tiny red shoes Denise had sent us for Saskia…and decorating the tree, imagining a nearly one year old getting underfoot (in the most wonderful way!) and knowing as my heart broke all over again that we would never have hung the decorations as low as we did with Saskia in the house and wishing fervently for the millionth time that she was here, adding to the magic that Tienne is creating for all us adults in the house with her…

Christmas this year and for all future years will be bittersweet. But I am determined to try my best to hold on to some of the magic Tienne sees and feels; for her, for me and for Saskia. Try and experience and help create all that is wonderful about Christmas and not hold it close but spread it wide…hopefully wide enough so that Saskia somehow, somewhere, knows just how much she is loved, not just at Christmas but everyday…knows how keenly she is felt not just as a loss but as a gift… she is still and always will be my Christmas gift…