Christmas is almost upon us!
This week the preparations have ramped up and I can feel the excitement building. We have bought the tree (a real one – it’s a beauty!), put up the decorations, purchased the last of the presents (thank you Amazon Prime – you are my new best friend!) and ordered the joints of meat. Today we visited the Christmas Market at Leeds Castle and squandered money on chocolates, sweets, hot drinks and novelty socks!
This year is Boy 3’s first Christmas. This makes it even more magical than ever… and yet in amongst the joy and excitement that Christmas brings, our family preparations are tinged with sadness.
I have not talked about the lead up to the arrival of Boy 3 before, on this blog – it is a long and sad story, that one day I may write about, but not for now. For now, just enough information to set the scene for Christmas this year.
My husband’s mum had been very ill during my pregnancy and before that – she had cancer. Having lost my father-in-law to the same terrible disease the previous year, her illness hit us all harder than ever. Late on in my pregnancy, my husband spent quite a lot of time up north, sitting with his mum in the hospice, grasping those precious last moments with her. We had all visited her, but as she became more ill, we felt it wasn’t right to take the boys there anymore, so I stayed at home to look after them.
I think the stress of the situation contributed to the early arrival of Boy 3 – although the midwives told me that was not the case. However I think they were just trying to protect me from feeling any guilt.
When I went into labour at 36 weeks pregnant, my husband was with his mum almost 200 miles away. Having made the unimaginable decision to leave her bedside and come back home, he made it to the hospital in time, with two hours to spare, thanks to a cocktail of Red Bull, chocolate and a heavy accelerator foot!
And on the day we celebrated the birth of our third baby boy, we also mourned the loss of his nana. She had fought long and hard, yet still had the strength to wait until she heard the news of the safe arrival of her newest grandson before she left us.
All of my Christmas preparations this year remind me of this wonderful lady, my mother-in-law.
I have bought a gammon joint this year. It is a funny Northern tradition that my husband insists upon. Something his mum prepared every Christmas. Breakfast on Christmas Day has to be gammon, bread and pickles.
I remember one Christmas, early on in our marriage, thinking that whilst this was the most disgusting breakfast ever (I am a Latte and Pain au Chocolat type of girl), I would lovingly prepare it for him. He was hugely grateful but I regretted it. The house smelt of gammon for days afterwards! From that year on, I refused to cook the ham and so my mother-in-law would cook the gammon joint for us at her house. And every year we would laugh as she arrived on Christmas Eve, opened up her suitcase and unpacked the meat!
I haven’t thought twice about cooking gammon for our Christmas breakfast this year. It has become a rite of passage. It would not be Christmas without it. And yes it will smell bad, but its significance outweighs any unpleasant odour.
Shopping for presents has also reminded me of our loss. Not just because we have one less person to buy for, but because she was such a generous lady. She would come to us for Christmas, laden with gifts. She managed to find the biggest gift bags in existence, and fill them to the brim with lovely, thoughtful gifts. For the children and for us. She bought the pyjamas, the novelty slippers, the tub of Heroes, the perfume, the jewellery and the clothes. Many of these things will be missing from our Christmas presents this year. And that makes me sad, not because of greed, but because of what they represented. Her gifts. Her generosity. Her Christmas traditions.
Which brings me on to the last tradition – the Christmas cake. A few days ago I placed my order for the Christmas grocery delivery and a Christmas cake was missing from this. This is another tradition of Christmas that doesn’t do it for me, but my husband loves Christmas cake. And his mum made the best Christmas cake ever. Every year, without fail, she would lovingly make and decorate cakes for her family, and it would form part of the bounty that came with her at Christmas time. And whilst she knew that it was only her son who ate it in our house, she would still make him a full-size cake and he would work his way through it for weeks after the big event!
I think we will go without Christmas cake this year.
I do not have the skill or knowledge to make one. And whilst there is probably a You Tube video out there that could teach me, I think it is probably too late now anyway. And a shop-bought one just won’t do it. It feels all wrong. Having had a mum-made cake, year after year, I don’t see how anything else could measure up.
Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year – the most wonderful time of the year – Andy Williams said so.
Yet for us, this year, it will difficult. For those of you who have lost people close to you, you will understand how I am feeling. Every preparation has reminded me of our loss, this year and last year. With every preparation, I have thought about how I can make this a happier time for my husband and sister-in-law. Every preparation has come with a bitter-sweet memory.
Our table at Christmas this year has two empty chairs…
But I know that Christmas must be joyful, and with our three beautiful boys, I will make it so. It is our baby’s first Christmas. It will be merry and bright and full of happiness for them. And hopefully for us.