I was — am — determined to get back on track on this fine Monday morning. There will be writing! There will be prompt answering of emails! There will be no furtive checking on my garrison status in World of Warcraft, or worse yet, just getting a little bit more XP, maybe ten percent of a level, so I can get another character into Draenor.

Well, eventually there will be some of that, but not until after I’ve written 1000 words and at least spent some time pondering the ywriter file of A Gift of Grace.

Among the email answering, though, was a second email from a favorite relative. I never answered the first, it got lost in the piles of emails I haven’t been dealing with during the holiday chaos, and because I felt guilty, I took the time to send her a long note about our holidays. It made me think about our holidays — as an overview — for the first time.

They were really nice. Really, really nice.

And this is a thing worthy of writing down so that I will remember it in future years, because honestly, the holidays have pretty much sucked for a pretty long while, so having a lovely holiday — well, it’s a thing to savor.

On Christmas Eve, R and I had a miserable fight on our way out to breakfast. End result: I went to breakfast on my own and ate blueberry pancakes and bacon and drank coffee. They were pretty good pancakes, although probably not worth the gluten-penalty, and maybe that fight and the resulting decision to enjoy my own life had something to do with the rest of the holiday? But the fight was about going to church. R was unpleasant when he discovered that was part of the plan for the evening. I told him that at 18, he was an adult and certainly didn’t need to go to church if he didn’t want to. We could take separate cars to Leesburg so he could leave before church, he could excuse himself from the evening’s festivities entirely, he could wait at the house while the rest of us were at church, but I was certain that he was capable of solving his own problem in a reasonable way. And meanwhile I, as the mother of an adult, had no intention of putting up with sulkiness and a bad attitude over something as trivial as spending an hour in an way that wasn’t pleasing.

R chose to go to church. And by the time we got in the car to go to Leesburg, ruffled feathers had pretty much been smoothed down and if there was a little stiffness, it was not worth noticing. That was the last unpleasant part of the next three days. Leesburg was a lovely family time — cousins and friends and grandparents. We exchanged presents, ate appetizers, drank wine, and yes, went to church. The songs were too slow, the sermon could have been better and the electronic candles were cheesy, but the beam on my dad’s face as he looked at the full pew behind him, with his daughters, grandsons and granddaughter was the reason I was there and absolutely worth the price of admission. I’d guess that it was the best Christmas present of his year, maybe the best one of many years.

The next day — Christmas — C and I were both up at 5. By 6, she was texting R to tell him it was time to open presents. I sent him a text, too, and his phone must have been buzzing like mad, but he didn’t stir. At 7, she brought him coffee in bed and told him it was time to open presents. The presents were just about perfect or maybe the audience was enthusiastic. R gave me the latest Patrick Rothfuss book (worthy of a blog post of its own because of writing-inspired thoughts), B gave me the DVD of Kiki’s Delivery Service, C gave me sparkly lights for my bedroom, new grill tools, and the cutest little gluten-free soy sauce fish. Also socks that use the word “fuck” which might just have become a holiday tradition. I can’t remember a year when I’ve had more perfect presents. (Although that said, last year C gave me an electric tea kettle, which has turned into a possession that I wouldn’t know how to live without.)

After presents, we had brunch. Bacon, fancy scrambled eggs, coffee, mimosas, while we watched movies, including C’s pick, Toys with Robin Williams (which is a seriously weird movie), mine (Kiki’s) and R’s (Howl’s Moving Castle). Eventually, B and C headed off to pick up his kids, and R and I went out to Korean food for dinner. We’ve had Korean for dinner for three out of the last four years (not last year, because he was in Seattle) and it’s turned into a nice little Christmas Day tradition. After dinner, I read my book in a candlelit bath and drank a chocolate martini and felt quite decadent and very content.

The day after Christmas, C made trifle and in the afternoon, we went over to her boyfriend’s family for dinner with the kids. Christmas crackers with magic tricks and jokes, beef wellington with asparagus and potatoes and celeriac au gratin, puff pastry with cranberry and brie, trifle, the classic English Christmas cake with brandy sauce, chocolates, ginger cookies… it was an incredible meal in wonderful company. We shared a peppermint pig, a tradition where you put the pig in a velvet pouch and everyone takes a turn sharing a good memory of the year and then hitting this pig with a hammer. Festive, thoughtful, lovely.

I drank more coffee this past week than I’ve had in months, more wine, ditto, and certainly ate more interesting foods. But between the lights on the house (first time in years), the natural Christmas tree (ditto), the church service, and the companionship of friends and family, it felt like a real holiday. Like the way Christmas is supposed to feel, a celebration of lights and people and the triumph over darkness.

I know that I’ve believed that Christmas would never be special again. When C and I were decorating the tree, my sense of missing my grandparents and my mom was so intense, so deep. Christmas without them has ever felt like the holes were so big, the absences so profound, that no joy could ever fill those empty spaces. This year, those empty spaces were still there. But I also managed to live in the moment, to appreciate what we had, and to celebrate the holiday. Christmas might never be what it was when I was a kid, but maybe I can finally stop dreading it.