Since time immemorial, there have always been three grand annual occasions at the Danese household at which the entire family gathers for a full day of food, drinks, and merriment. The first of these is Easter, and the second is Thanksgiving. But the biggest and most important event of the year is Christmas. It’s an occasion so grand that it can’t be contained in a single day. Instead, both sides of the family are involved in a three meal, thirty hour extravaganza. It is, without a doubt, my favourite time of year.

But this year… this year is different.

Due to illnesses on both sides of the family, only one of my grandparents came over, and none of my cousins. As such, the typical gathering of 15-18 people was only a party of 9 this year. That’s unfortunate, but it’s not the end of the world.

But then just as we were about to start eating, the phone rang. I picked it up, and the second I heard who it was I wanted to hang up. I wanted to hang up because I knew that the person on the other end wanted to speak to my grandmother, and was going to tell her that her only remaining brother had died. But of course I didn’t hang up. I passed  the phone to my grandmother, and she started crying. I hugged her. What else could I do? She then left to go see her sister.

The meal continued, a little quieter than before. And then again, the phone rang. Again I picked it up. It was my other grandmother, and she wanted to speak to my dad. She delivered my news that she had called an ambulance for my grandfather, who had been having some trouble breathing.

So that about just about killed whatever remaining mood this party had. We’re trying to make the best of it, but it’s hard.  The conversation keeps turning back to the subject of illness and death – not the usual banter that occurs at these occasions. And, for the first time in 20 years, my father will not be making his annual appearance as Santa.

As for the traditional continuation of this party on Christmas Day, that’s very much up in the air. It’s doubtful that we’ll do anything at all.

Doesn’t really feel like Christmas.