Keeping My Parents Alive Through Their Holiday Traditions

Throughout my life, the holidays have always been just like the song – the most wonderful time of the year. We had so many traditions that you would think we were the Claus family. Every moment from November through January 1st was filled with magic.

Losing my mom

And then my mom died the week before Thanksgiving when I was 22. And the magic of the season seemed to have died with her. Really, I remember trying to decorate for Christmas and ending up drop kicking a stuffed snowman across my living room. I just couldn’t find my holiday spirit. My dad and I ended up in Disney World for Christmas, trying to recapture some magic. Even the most magical place on Earth seemed to have lost its spark.

The next year was easier, and it kept getting easier. To cook a Thanksgiving meal, decorate the Christmas tree, hang the stockings. My dad still loved the holidays, and I did my best to keep the traditions in place for him. As a newlywed, I also wanted to share my family traditions with my husband. I still felt like I was just going through the motions, but they felt important. I had the weight of generations of history on my shoulders. I would not be the one that all of these traditions ended with.

In 2013, we found out I was pregnant with Ruby, and suddenly the holiday spark was back. As I hollied and jollied through the holidays, I dreamed of sharing my mom’s recipes with my own daughter and watching my dad clean out the toy store for her Christmas gifts. After all, she was still a little gummy bear and she already had more presents under the tree than anyone else in the family.

Losing my dad

As the holidays approached the next year, we were all abuzz with Ruby’s first Christmas. By the end of the summer, my dad already had Christmas gifts stashed away for his first grandchild. And then he had a brain stem stroke. He passed away two days after the 6th anniversary of my mom’s death and four days before Thanksgiving.

daddychristmasI suddenly felt very alone. An only child with no parents left. I was an orphan. All of my people were gone. I wanted to mourn and lock myself away, but I had a beautiful seven month old little girl with a whole round of “firsts” to celebrate. I persevered. I realized that my daughter would never get to know either one of her beautiful, loving, generous grandparents. She would never experience a house full of people for Thanksgiving dinner or hours at the Christmas tree lot searching for the perfect tree with her grandmother or a living room positively stuffed with presents from her grandfather. Unless I showed her.

Keeping their traditions alive

So now, each November, I pull out my mom’s Thanksgiving decorations and plaster the house in turkeys, pumpkins, and faux foliage. I spend two days cooking all of the recipes that I’ve slowly figured out (and silently yell at my mom for never writing them down). I set the table with the good china and cloth napkins. I make them all stay in the living room watching cheesy TV movies while I cook. My husband makes sure to get the Christmas lights hung outside, so that we can turn them on Thanksgiving night. I make sure we head for the Christmas tree lot on Black Friday and spend as long as it takes to find the perfect tree. I, again, pull out my mom’s Christmas decorations and plaster the house with wreaths, Santa, reindeer, and snowmen. I carefully shop for the perfect gifts to share with the people I love and spend hours meticulously wrapping them with beautiful fabric bows and shiny paper. I switch over the music to all Christmas, all the time. I bake cookies and serve meals on our family’s heirloom Christmas patterned china. I grandly line up our Christmas presents around the tree and take pictures before we start opening them. rubyI make everyone wear cheesy Christmas attire and special pajamas. I cook cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, ham for Christmas lunch, and even order Chinese food for Christmas dinner. I smile and laugh and sometimes cry.

Ruby may never get to spend the holidays with her grandparents, and I may never again get to hear my mom belting out Christmas tunes along with her Celine Dion CD or see my dad emerge with his red flannel shirt and “Bah humbug!” Santa hat, but they are living all around us. As I explain our traditions and tell Ruby stories about my holidays of yore, she will meet her grandparents.

And hopefully, she’ll feel that magic that I felt for all of those years, and one day share it with her own children.


  1. I don’t know how I missed this during the holidays, but what a beautiful post! My parents divorced when I was an adult, and while this in no way compares to the death of your parents, I found myself desperately missing our holiday traditions. It’s been almost 6 years and we are still working on our new ways of celebrating with split holidays and the newest generation of littles. It’s nice to know that someone else also wants to hold on and past down certain holiday memories as well!


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