When I was little, my mom and dad made a huge deal out of the holiday season. They would bring out all the decorations from the attic and buy a few more. There would be holiday music playing on the record player (yes, it was that long ago) and chestnuts roasting over a fire. My parents weren’t wealthy, but they always put a lot of thought into choosing the perfect gift for each of us and invested in festive wrapping paper, ribbons and cards.
I’ve continued these traditions with my own children, but Mom passed away a few years ago and Dad is housebound and a tad forgetful. His caregiver, Pat, helped him decorate his house and she plays music too – although, of course, she uses her phone or YouTube.
Two years ago, we thought it would be too hard for Dad to come out to our house for the big holiday celebration, and we didn’t think he would appreciate the noise and mess. We brought him presents, of course, and stopped by with our best wishes, but it really wasn’t the same. He barely noticed there was a holiday and we missed his presence at dinner and especially the next morning.
So last year we decided to try something new. We held Christmas dinner at his house. I cooked the food at home and brought it over just to reheat, although Pat did contribute her special mashed potatoes. We ate, we sang, we laughed and we piled presents high under the tree. When it got late, Dad went to bed and we gathered our kids and went home to sleep.
The next morning, we showed up bright and early. Dad, of course, had been up for at least an hour, watching over the gifts and looking out the window for our car. We opened up the gifts with much ceremony, including the ones we bought for Dad to distribute. As soon as we saw that he was getting tired out, we went home and continued our celebrations there. But at least we had seen Dad smile and laugh and get into the spirit of the holiday.
Later in the day, we got a phone call from Pat to tell us how much Dad had enjoyed the celebrations and how much he talked about it over the course of the day. He even told Pat stories of Christmases past, from his childhood and from his years with Mom. There was even one particularly embarrassing story about my attempt to hide the fact that I had ripped open my present late at night when no one was looking…
What I realized last year was that the value of traditions is as strong as ever, no matter how feeble and confused Dad gets. Passing on the traditions to my kids isn’t enough. I need to continue these traditions with Dad for as long as possible, even if it means some inconvenience and creative thinking. There’s no question in my mind that we’ll be having Christmas dinner and present opening at Dad’s this year too. We may have to leave a little earlier, since he tires more easily these days, but we won’t go without seeing Dad’s joy and hearing his laughter.