I told this story a little while ago, but I’m going to put it here again, because I don’t have any other story that’s half as good for this prompt.
The year my parents separated, there were suddenly two houses and two Christmas trees. And only one of me.
That Christmas was grim, but one thing was worth doing, and has stuck: I bought two identical tree ornaments, one for each of my parent’s Christmas trees. I couldn’t be in two places at once, but I could at least show that I wished I could be.
Over the years, I’ve expanded the practice, and now send tree decorations to both of my parents, the two of my brothers who have moved out, and my in-laws, as well as keeping one for our own tree – so even when I can’t be with someone for Christmas, there can be something of me there.
Sometimes I’ve made decorations. Sometimes I’ve bought several identical ones. Sometimes I’ve got a set and split it up. Glass angels, laser-cut wooden dragons from Ljubljana, crystal stars, iridescent hummingbirds… This year I’ve been threading gorgeous faceted glass beads onto thick silver-plated wire and bending it into abstract spirals. This tradition, born of one of the most painful experiences of my life, has become one of the preparations that I most enjoy.
This year, it’s a particular blessing. I don’t need to think of something new in a year that’s already had more than enough strangeness. I already have this way of letting people know that I’d like to be with them and acknowledging that I can’t. My family is large and far-flung: we would never have got everybody in the same place anyway. (All the same, maybe we’ll give that a go next year! In the meantime, I’ll wrap these little ornaments up and put them in the post…)