They are shades of me. They are living, breathing and bittersweet memories of an innocence past and an ignorance lost. There is Christmas in their hearts and they keep it always.

Bells – they ring. Songs – they sing. I watch them in their revelry from a far away place, floating like fog through their treetops. Their smiles are laced with icing. Their breath is of candy canes and gingerbread. Their hair sparkles with glitter beneath lights strung forever. They know nothing but merry. They know naught but the now. They nestle snug in their beds and they breathe in the magic.

I exhale slowly.

Late nights dance with early mornings and I spin like a broken record. The tree is lit and the fireside glows. Holiday albums that used to skip and choose sides now stream endlessly from speakers unseen. Their joy is daunting and their melody haunting. The echoes they leave fall silent like snow.

This is the hole my grandmother left, torn new and asunder. My memories of Christmas are also of her and without the one I cope as I can with the other.

Ghosts of Christmases past linger sweet like whiskey. Ghosts of Christmases future are unknown and fraught with all that that implies. The spirit of Christmas present is complicated. It is both hollow and overflowing. It is both an emptiness in my heart and the means to fill it. It is the most wonderful time of the year, and yet it is the loneliest.

One Christmas my grandmother gave us stockings that she had made out of bits of old jeans and thread and love. They are hung by the chimney with care.

This Christmas my father is motherless, my grandfather hopeless and my family divided in every which way. Roads have diverged and differences made.

The Christmas of my grandmother is a moveable feast. It finds me as it left me – giving, taking, content and hungry. I am keeping this Christmas the best I know how, and for that my children will remember her always.