As I write I’m proctoring my last religion final. Alleluia! Nevermind the fact that I still have to grade these finals and read 85 two week old essays I still haven’t gotten to. For the first time this long December I finally feel like rest is near. Very soon I will be on the road home and ready to celebrate with my family. This is our fifth Christmas without my mother, and the holidays haven’t been the same without her. The last Christmas we celebrated together my mom was so physically sick with the cancer she was battling that my sister and I had to take care of everything my mom usually did – decorating the house, shopping for my little brother and sister, writing Christmas cards, baking and cooking Christmas dinner. I remember that night after we had finished cleaning from dinner my mom told my sister Stefini and I that she was proud of the job we had done. We cried as she told us she was no longer worried about leaving our younger siblings behind because they had us to watch over them. Exactly three weeks later she was gone.
I can’t help but have bittersweet emotions this time of year. The light and joy of the Christmas season is slightly darkened by the absence of my mother. What used to be my favorite holiday isn’t quite the same without my mom there to decorate the tree, to lock us out of the room so she could wrap presents or to tell us all to hurry up or we would be late for Christmas Eve mass. Especially now that my nieces are growing up, I wish more than anything that my mom was still with us on Christmas morning when my bundled-in-blankets-siblings and I would gather in the family room for my father’s annual Christmas morning prayer and reminder of how lucky we are because “back home in Tonga we were lucky to get an orange for Christmas.”
My mom’s favorite Christmas song was Oh Holy Night, perhaps subconsciously the reason why I have ten different versions of it on my iTunes Christmas playlist. I play the song over and over and sing along, but never thought much of the words. Yesterday I pulled up the lyrics and read along to John Legend’s rendition:
Oh holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night
Of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
Tears fell down my cheek.
Oh hear the angel’s voices
The memory of mother’s voice echoed in my heart.
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine
I started to understand why this song was her favorite. A convert to Catholicism when I was 5 years old, my mother’s sense of faith always amazed me. I remember studying theology in college and calling my mom for her perspective that was so different from mine. She taught me so much about this faith I love.
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay this in a lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend
With tears streaming down my face I listened to John Legend belt out the song and I was finally in tune with the true Christmas spirit – not the Santa Claus-holiday sale-merry materialistic Christmas decoration wonderland kind of spirit, but the awestruck-wholeheartedly grateful for the gift of Incarnation spirit. My eyes danced across the last verse.
Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
I think of my mother. This is my prayer this Christmas.
May we love one another.
May we only live by the law of love and the gospel of peace.
May we work to break chains wherever they bind.
May we see everyone as sister and brother.
May we toil to end all oppression.
And may we forever sing hymns of joy and praise His holy name.
Tefi Ma’ake looks forward to her two weeks of Christmas break, to spending the Holidays in the chilly San Diego weather, to watching her nieces on Christmas morning…and of course to grading those final exams and essays!