George hadn’t wanted to set up the tree but tradition prevailed. Against his better judgment, he crept up the attic stairs and drug down the many boxes with the words, ‘Christmas’.
He set up the tree then sat on the floor and untangled the lights. It took him less time to wrap them around the tree with no one there to tell him the ‘right way’ to do it. George pulled out one handcrafted ornament after another that his daughter had made throughout the years. He never really took the time to admire them before. Once his job: setting up the tree and working on the lights was done; he would return to his recliner and watch the football game as Norma did all the reminiscing.
But this year was different. George lost his wife to cancer just months before and he hadn’t seen his daughter Kate since the funeral. She was married to a stock broker who never took time off work to come visit. After all, the glue that bound the family wasn’t alive any longer.
George sipped his coffee and nibbled on a store bought Christmas cookie while he admired the lights twinkling and twirling. Norma’s Bible sat on the coffee table. He hadn’t touched it since she died. He spent many hours reading it to her as she struggled to handle the pain that wracked her body. Now the Bible mocked him as it lay covered in dust.
Why did God seem good enough when Norma was alive but now had no place in his life? He paced the room as the question invaded his thoughts. George stopped at the window. His neighbor’s house caught his eye with its brightly lit room and family and friends sitting around the tree. Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his wrinkled, weathered cheeks.
He walked to the tree and picked up a glittery ornament. With a sob, he threw it across the room. It shattered into tiny pieces. George fell to his knees. Unshed tears escaped invisible barriers he had built. He felt loneliness and grief clear to his bones. Eventually, he dried his eyes and reached for the Bible. He lovingly wiped off the dust with his sleeve and opened to Luke, a tradition that he couldn’t let go even if he was alone and angry with God.
He sat on a footstool beside the tree with his wife’s Bible in his lap, reading glasses nestled on his nose. He read aloud beginning with chapter one. He pretended Norma sat at his feet, her head resting on his lap like when they first were married. Little Katie lay on the floor, stomach down, legs up – the way she loved to read and watch TV. He imagined hearing Christmas music from their old record player. Katie would tease and say how other kids had CD players but she loved it.
The doorbell rang and startled George making the Bible fall to the floor. He slowly hobbled to the door and looked through the window. He gasped. His precious Katie had come home.
“I couldn’t leave you alone for Christmas. Jay can stay and work if he wants; I wanted to be with my daddy.” George reached out and touched her – scared it was only a dream.
He seemed surprised when he felt a wooly coat. He held her tight as tears streamed down his face once again. “Oh Katie,” his voice was raspy from not talking to anyone for so long.
She pulled away a bit and asked, “Am I too late for the Christmas story?”
He led her by the hand to the front room, and was very happy he had decorated the tree and started up a cozy wood fire. “Honey, I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas this year without you.”
“Me either, Daddy,” she admitted. “I miss Mom.”
George sat on the stool with Kate at his feet, her head in his lap. “Me, too, but your mom would want us to celebrate Christmas because Christmas is bigger than either one of us. I know she’s smiling right now seeing us together.” He picked up the Bible and began again for his little Katie:
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel…”
The lights twinkled and twirled as Daddy and Daughter remembered the real reason to celebrate Christmas. Tradition aside, they realized Christmas wasn’t Christmas without being with those they loved, those people that Jesus came to earth to die for.
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