As a general rule, I start listening to Christmas music each year around September 15th. That’s exactly 100 days before December 25th, and in my opinion, it’s totally fair game.
In all the places I’ve lived and worked, the people around me have taken note: this chick loves her some Christmastime. I deck the halls with dedication and purpose, send holiday greetings the good ol’ fashioned way, and am notorious for my extensive Christmas music expertise. You could call me the sommelier of sleigh-worthy songs.
I’m the one to whom my friends confess when they sneak a listen to few carols before Thanksgiving. I’m who they call when they’re blaring “Run Rudolph Run” when it’s 75 degrees and sunny.
Yes, I’m that girl.
And yet, this year, somehow I’m not.
It was this time last year—December 16—when I got the phone call. I was told that Mom is not okay. Her pneumonia is worse than we thought. There’s a 50% chance she won’t make it.
And it was five days from now—December 20—that we lost her.
It was two days after that—on the eve of Christmas Eve—when I sat in a black turtle neck dress on the front row of the United Methodist church in Pulaski, Tennessee at her funeral. Surrounded by advent wreaths and Poinsettias and manger scenes.
This year, I kept waiting to get the unmistakable, relentless urge to listen to Christmas music. September 15th rolled around and nothing happened. Halloween passed, and I still wasn’t ready. Then Thanksgiving—the day when the rest of the world starts feeling festive—came and went. And I just felt numb. And empty. And lost.
Even the first of December didn’t offer a magic spark. Instead, I felt nothing.
And I knew then that Christmas had changed for me.
One of my favorite Christmas albums growing up was Vince Gill’s Let There Be Peace on Earth. For reasons I could never explain, my favorite song on the album was titled “It Won’t Be the Same This Year.” Written as a tribute to Vince’s brother who died from a car crash, this melancholy tune showcases how at the core of the holiday season are the relationships and memories we have with the ones we love:
“It’s time to pack our bags and hit the highway.
And head on out for Christmas holiday.
I’ll fall apart when I pull in the driveway.
It’s my first time home since brother passed away.
His favorite time of year was always Christmas.
We’ll reminisce about the days gone by.
Oh, how I wish that he was still here with us.
My memories of him will never die.
Losin’ my big brother hurt so badly.
It’s helped me learn what Christmas really means.
There’s nothing more important than your family.
We’re all the children of the King of Kings.”
Now, approaching the first anniversary of Mom’s death, I understand the words of this song. The pain of this loss. The power of this sadness.
And despite those feelings, I’ve decided to turn on my Merry-mas playlist on my iPod. I listen every chance I get, even though I’m never quite in the mood. I’ve decided to decorate. My first tree at my new house–with many of Mom’s sweet, beautiful Christmas touches scattered throughout. I’ve decided to buy the presents, to splurge on the good wrapping paper with real ribbon, to send the cards, to bake the snickerdoodles, to watch The Grinch, and to embrace the joys of the season.
Because even if Christmas won’t be the same this year, I’ve decided I still can be.