I dragged everything out of the garage that I painstakingly packed away last year for easy retrieval this year. I don’t think I’ll ever get it all back in those boxes when it’s over.

I’m preparing the motherly holiday homecoming experience, to the best of my ability. The bedrooms have miniature Christmas trees, fresh linens, and all the comforts I could find. What do they eat for breakfast now? Do I even know? I’ll don my apron, and we’ll bake cookies while we chat about life and catch up, with the fire flickering in the next room where the stockings are hung with care.

Maybe it will snow!

The billions of tiny white lights spread out everywhere in the house will come on magically around 5pm, and we’ll all be filled with childlike wonder and Christmas magic. We’ll laugh and recall Christmases past just like a Hallmark movie…

But a nagging, painful melancholy will force its way into my soul, with a secret loneliness that always comes this time of year. I dare not acknowledge it. I swallow hard and push it down; it’s not part of the script. Family photos don’t show holes in hearts.

Christmas reaches deep into those dark closets where I store all of the difficult things I cannot bear throughout the year, pulls everything out, and makes a great big mess in the middle of the floor. Every ornament holds a memory. New traditions mix with old ones and the ghosts of Christmases past haunt my Decembers.

Families are fragile. At Christmas, the broken ones patch themselves together just long enough to hold on for a portrait, a meal, or for Santa’s arrival. Sometimes. Others are shattered so badly that the pieces are unrecoverable.

What do you do with a fractured family at Christmas?

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