Struggling to let go of Christmases past

My Christmas card this year is an homage to Christmases past, with a collage of my favorite shots of Ainsley visiting Santa over the years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmases past this year, from the little cuts my mom and I would get assembling our aluminum tree (remember the ’70s?) to our annual Christmas Eve celebration at my grandparents’ house in Dolton. My aunt, a mere 18 months older, and I would wait anxiously until it was time to go downstairs and open presents. One year all the females in the family received robes, and there’s some great video footage of us dancing around in them like fools. (Great if you are interested in blackmail, I should add.)

The first year Dan and I were married, we started our own holiday tradition of going out to breakfast on Christmas Eve. We stumbled on the Oak Tree on the top floor of the Bloomingdale’s building on Michigan Avenue. They served a delicious breakfast with floor-to-ceiling windows offering an unbeatable view of Fourth Presbyterian Church and the Hancock building.

A year later, as proud homeowners, we hosted our first Christmas dinner. A tad overenthusiastic, I served ham and turkey and a zillion sides. My parents and grandparents showed up an hour early just as I was about to hop in the shower. I think I cried at some point, but we continued to have Christmas dinner at our house every year — with a drastically simplified menu. Of course, things can’t stay the same forever.

My grandparents moved to Alabama when I was 10. The Oak Tree closed in 2019. And our Christmas dinner guest list has grown smaller over the years, with all of the original attendees, except for my father-in-law, having passed on.

I’ve realized, as I’ve gotten older, that maintaining holiday traditions is more difficult than I once thought. Family members move. Restaurants close. Loved ones die.

Last year I wrote a column about all the changes COVID-19 had wrought on our holiday celebrations, from the cancellation of Ainsley’s holiday concerts at school to the empty seats at our dining room table Dec. 25. I hoped, at the time, that this Christmas would be different.

And it is, in some ways. Last week, we enjoyed watching Ainsley sing, play the violin and play the clarinet at three different concerts. We can return to the live nativity service Christmas Eve at Hinsdale Covenant Church. And we plan to resume our Christmas Eve breakfast, with a promising new location. With any luck, we’ll be able to join my father-in-law and my mom’s sweetheart, who has become part of our family, for a mid-day Christmas meal at their assisted living facility and have our neighbor over for supper.

Last year I seemed able to muster more enthusiasm about embracing change, despite the loss of my mom in November. This year I’m struggling — even though I know all about “relentless impermanence” from Dan Harris’ Ten Percent Happier podcast.

Returning to memories from the ’70s, there’s the year Santa left me a Barbie Dream House AND a Barbie Beauty Center. It was the best kid Christmas ever.

But I wouldn’t want to go back. I wouldn’t want to miss growing up, getting married, becoming a mother. I had no idea that day that I would experience even greater joy in my life.

Even today, I have no idea what joy is in store for me, this year or in years to come. A Christmas future — different as it’s sure to be — just might be the best Christmas yet.

— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean