This year marks our fourth holiday season since Patrick died. Each season has been a progression. During the first, we were trying to conceive after loss and just get through the holiday season. During the second, we were pregnant after loss. And during the third, we were parenting our subsequent child in the first year after birth. Each step of that progression had was a new experience and offered its own challenges.

But this year feels different.

This season—from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day—had always been my favorite time of year. Even when I struggled with crippling depression, long before my son died, this season always held magic:

  • Magic in remembering all that I have to be grateful for;
  • Magic in the first snow;
  • Magic in the music, decorations, food, and crafts—a full sensory experience; and
  • Magic in the fresh start of a new year.

This year, after three years of simply trying to get through this season, I feel the magic again. I see it in my daughter’s eyes, but it exists in me too. Yes, her excitement is contagious, and it stirs the emotions and excitement in me too. But, it existed in me before she started to see any of the decorations or hear the music. I think it started for me around Halloween. She enjoyed dressing up and trick or treating in a way I’m not sure I quite expected. And that started to get me excited about Christmas.

Right around that same time, I received a Christmas Spirit essential oil to diffuse over the holidays. I opened it, inhaled it deeply, and took it into my husband to smell as well. I excitedly asked, “Do you smell it? It’s Christmas! I can’t wait for Christmas.”

But, I had to wait a bit. We have a rule in our house: No Christmas anything until after Thanksgiving. No decorations, no Christmas music, no Christmas shopping. We don’t want to diminish Thanksgiving, so we wait. But, this year, I’ve had a hard time waiting. I’ve seen the decorations go up in stores, and I’ve just ached to decorate our home.

During this wait, I’ve plotted, planned, and made lists.

We plotted our special Second Annual Patrick’s Christmas Books event, in memory of our son, which will kick off this week. We’ll be donating children’s books to the pediatric unit at the hospital where both of my children were born. I’m excited to host this event again. It gives our friends and family a way to remember Patrick too. It helps us hold space for him, buy gifts for him, and know he isn’t forgotten.

My husband and I sat down and planned the special activities we wanted to prioritize this year. We didn’t want the season to get away from us without doing some of the things we’d been looking forward to. But, we also didn’t want to over-schedule and get unnecessarily depleted. We decided that we want to hold the magic.

And I’ve made lists. Oh, the lists! Wish lists, shopping lists, articles-to-write lists. So many lists! I did cross off one of those lists early, so I would have the supplies to start a special project. I’m making an interactive felt Christmas tree to hang on the wall so my daughter can have her own little tree to decorate. I’ve wanted to make one for years.

Thanksgiving weekend finally arrived!

My husband took off extra time around Thanksgiving so we could have a special weekend of giving thanks, eating delicious food, shopping, decorating, and attend our town’s tree lighting festival. As he brought the decorations down from the attic Saturday morning, I looked at my daughter and said, “Look! Christmas is here!” We spent the rest of the day watching Christmas movies, decorating the tree, putting up the Christmas village, and finding special spots for some decorations that belonged to my grandparents that are new to our home—a vintage ceramic light-up tree and a hand-painted nativity set painted by my step-grandma.

As we hung the Christmas ornaments, we shared the stories each of them hold, and we saved a special area at the bottom of the tree for toddler-safe ornaments that she can take down and hang over and over again. She loves that little activity so much that we added a basket under the tree for her to store the extra ornaments.

We showed her each giraffe ornament that her brother received the past three Christmases and his special “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments. Then we showed her the special family ornaments and her “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments. We talked about the family ornament we’d choose this year—probably a penguin family, because she and her daddy have bonded over penguin love this year.

The past few years, we’ve only decorated the tree and put out the advent calendars. Most other decorations, including our beloved Christmas village, have stayed in the attic. I just haven’t had the energy or the desire. I’ve partially blamed it on the traveling we did two out of the three years. But, really, my heart has just been going through the motions.

The Magic Returns: At our town's tree lighting festival

Snowman family portrait at our town’s tree lighting festival.

This year, though? My heart is fully present. The magic has returned.

Is your heart going through the motions this year? Maybe you can’t even go through the motions. Maybe you need to escape completely. That’s completely OK. Give yourself permission to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. But also know that some day the magic might return.

If that’s happened for you this year, embrace it. You’re due some magic.

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