I grew up loving the Christmas season but not really understanding it. We weren't particularly religious folk; for us, the Christmas pageant was just an opportunity to visit with our friends and snitch as many cookies from the cookie plate as possible. Baby Jesus was just some kid who didn't know who his daddy some of my cousins.

Regardless to this ignorance, my mom did up Christmas the way Martha Stewart can fold a linen napkin. With flare. Every year was a competition with to see if she could out do the year before. Could she toss more tinsel on an already over-burdened tree? Could she squeeze in another Santa figurine on the coffee table? (Oh look, there is approximately two square inches of space that haven't been decorated.)

For the entire month of December, no matter what our family faults may be, I was always proud to be a part of this family. Because we always had the best decorated house in town. Inside and out.

Thankfully my mom just didn't decorate. She baked. Not only did we have the prettiest tree, but an ample amount of freshly baked goodies to consume while we lay in the dark and watch the twinkle of our tannenbaum.

Once I grew up and had kids of my own, it was a mad rush to replicate the memories of my Christmas yore. Boo didn't understand my desire to deck the halls; in his household they had a pathetic little Charlie Brown tree with six ornaments on it and one string of lights, most of which were burnt out. They didn't even have stockings. Unfreakingbelievable!

(My darling hubs would like to point out that Christmas for them was more than just tinsel and lights. It had religious and family meaning beyond how big the Christmas tree was, or if there was a talking Santa figurine.)

Whatever. My house rocked. His didn't.

Eventually, I caught up with my mom. My house is a magical place at Christmas time. I tossed the tinsel in favor of garland, traded in the Santas for some beautiful nativity scenes, but I know how to deck these halls. And my kids love it. And the best part of all was watching the Bug's face light up when the Christmas tree was turned on. He didn't understand the fuss, or the muss. But he knew something was up. And every decoration I had was an opportunity for therapy for him. Touching the tree, feeling the prickles. Holding the smooth, cold glass balls in his small chubby little hands. Tasting the peppermint across his wet lips, from the candy cane I would swipe across his tongue.

All of it was so new and fresh for him, every year. And he loved it. While Fric and Frac pranced with excitement, barely able to contain their giddy glee at the thought of ripping into the presents, Shalebug thoughtfully stared at the twinkling lights, mesmerized by some vision only he could see.

So it became a pleasure to decorate every year. To see if I could outdo myself and my mother. I was building the excitement for Fric and Frac and I was providing an opportunity for Bug to reach out and talk with his angels. Every tupperware box Boo dragged in, bitching and moaning, was full of anticipation and excitement; filled with hope and promise.

It's not the same this year. Not for me, not for Fric and Frac. Sure, they are greedy little kids, anxiously awaiting the arrival of promised goodies for a year of half-assed good behavior. But the twinkle of the tree has lost it's sparkle. The water globes are no longer tiny little worlds of mystery, but just glass balls that no longer get drenched with drooly little fingers. The candy canes are now just candy to be forgotten on the tree, collecting dust. How does a person recapture the spirit of Christmas when the family angel is now on top of the tree, instead of in our arms?

How does a mother put on a happy face, decorate her home, bake her cookies, wrap her gifts, knowing that one of her children won't ever again stare at the glittery glow of her pretty tree?

So I carry on. I push through the throng of crazy Christmas shoppers, ignore the carols being sung on every corner and pretend nothing is wrong.

I bake, and I decorate. I tell silly jokes and I encourage the kids to dream of sugar plums and dancing fairies.

And I will watch the anticipation of the season build it's momentum in their tiny hearts, until they are busting at the seams with excitement on Christmas morning.

I will watch them tear into the paper-wrapped packages, and discard the bows I have lovingly placed on all the presents. I will watch their faces for signs of disappointment or glee when they discover what's inside their parcels.

I will play Christmas music and read the story of the birth of Christ, and try to carry on.

All the while ignoring the empty stocking that remains, mocking me, reminding me of what I lost. And what heaven gained.