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When I started high school, a lot changed in our family. Brenton went off to college, Mom went back to work full time as a nurse, and Dad stayed home after having been laid off from his job. It was a huge change and transition for all of us. It also caused us to adjust our Christmas traditions slightly.
We decorated slower; most of it getting done in the evenings when I had finished school or on Mom’s days off work. Because money was tight while Dad was unemployed our tree was gifted to us by close family friends (though a note left on it said Santa had heard we needed a tree for the holiday.) My Mom also let me in on one of her Christmas traditions that had been a private one before: watching the Letterman Christmas episode every year.
For those that don’t know, David Letterman had the same show every year on the final Friday before Christmas. It started in 1986 in the NBC days with Darlene Love performing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and eventually included Jay Thomas sharing an anecdote about The Lone Ranger, followed by a friendly challenge to see who could hit a meatball off the top of a Christmas tree with a football first. For Mom, it was a moment of calm and relaxation that could otherwise elude her during the busy holiday season. Her invitation to share it with her made me feel like her equal—like she recognized that in her absence I had shouldered a large part of the work we all did together.
Once we got a DVR, even that tradition morphed slightly. She and I began to sit down to watch the episode every Christmas Eve. We did it in the quiet stillness that followed dinner with friends and family, last-minute wrapping of gifts that had arrived late finally done. She would sink into her recliner, exhausted from the day while I sat on the couch forcing our cocker spaniel to cuddle. The only lights allowed were the lights on the mantel and Christmas tree, and we laughed as we listened to the same story being told again, as we watched that disgusting, old meatball fall from the tree, and finally sang along with Darlene as we welcomed in another Christmas. Inevitably, by the time we finished the show it was past midnight, so we’d be the first to wish the other a “Merry Christmas,” and we’d sleepily head off to bed. We continued to do it even after Letterman ended in 2014, until one day we didn’t get to the DVR fast enough and our recording was lost.
Last year, I shared that tradition with my husband, Ben. He’d heard me talk about it before but had never experienced it. We decided it was time to revive it and we went in search of the episode to download and save. We found it (because nothing is ever truly gone on the internet) and watched it together as Christmas Eve rolled into Christmas Day, just as I had with my Mom for so many years. We’ll keep doing it— knowing that Mom is right there with us, laughing at a meatball and singing with Darlene to welcome in Christmas.
Until next week,
Kendall and all of us at Beth’s Christmas
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