Merry Christmas to the dead and the living

For years after my dad passed Christmas Eve was the day when, after all the joyful prepping, decorating, gift wrapping, praying, eating, singing, and (it's TRUE!!!) walking to church for Mette in the snow with a lantern, we would stick a three-foot high Christmas tree on his grave, and, after several sometimes vain attempts of lighting the candles in the nightly wind, stand in silence, while my mother quietly cried into her handkerchief. Those moments were hard. Especially the closeness of pure elation (I particularly loved singing "Stille Nacht" in the darkened church) and deep, gut wrenching sorrow. But it was all part of the ritual, including my father's siblings who would join the circle, each armed with their very own handkerchief to weep into. Only after a decent amount of mourning would there be the acknowledgement of the person next to you, the aunt, uncle, brother, sister.
But it had to be done. It was part of the ritual, the inclusion of the dead in the celebration of the living. "Merry Christmas" was said at the end, over and over, like a mantra, until we all dispersed back to our warm houses, leaving the dead behind, but still putting a candle in the window, so they too might find their way home.

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