The Muirhead tradition is one that continues from the days of our childhood. We always celebrated and opened our gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning. I'm not sure why, but I loved it that way. Maybe it had to do with all the chores that a cattle rancher and dairyman has to do every morning, starting at 4 or 5 in the morning with milking, feeding calves, chickens, etc. After a break for breakfast, it was time to harness the workhorses to the big sled on runners and load it with hay to carry to the feed yards for the cattle. With snow that accumulated to depths of four, five, or more feet in the winter, that could take until past noon.
After we moved from the Yampa Valley and even after Mom and Dad quit ranching, and their kids had moved away and formed families of their own, the tradition of meeting at our parents' house on the day before Christmas continued. When Mom died, 5 years after Dad passed away, our sister Sharon bought their house and continues to live there so that it is still the place for everyone to come the day before Christmas for a potluck dinner, gift exchange, and camaraderie. Kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids all crowd into the old ranch house* where memories of Mom and Dad are strong. (*When Dad was superintendent of a ditch company, he and Mom bought the house that was part of the old Benson homestead north of Lake Loveland. It's now pretty much in the middle of town as the city has grown up around it.)
As with many Christmases over the years, I have not been part of that nostalgic setting because of the distance I live from my Colorado roots, the threat of bad roads and weather, and the draw of my own offspring to stay here in Montana. And it was a lovely Christmas Day here—relaxed, peaceful, and fun, as I basked in the presence of 3 of my children, their spouses and families that included 6 of my 8 grandchildren and 2 of my 3 great-grandchildren.
Still, I missed Joan very much. Just knowing she wouldn't be with the family for Christmas Eve-day, for the first time—ever—as far as I know, was sad. Ever since she passed away in September, it's been hard to realize that she is not just a phone call away, for we used to talk on the phone daily. So, the day before Christmas, I called my niece to commiserate. When I reached her, she was at Sharon's house. For her it was weird and sad to get there and not see her mom, for Joan was usually the first to arrive.
Oh how we miss her! She will never be forgotten, just as Mom and Dad still live in our memory as vivid as the day we last saw them.
Holidays—times for joy and celebration—are also a time of sorrow as we long for those who have gone to rest. They are a time for remembering, too, keeping the influence of our departed loved ones ever with us. And in that, I take comfort.