Ten years ago Kirsten and I decided to stop celebrating Christmas with the girls. We didn’t like its symbolism, religious heritage, and most of the ways people celebrated. However, we did like the idea of spending time together with intentional focus on strengthening our relationships. We created our own traditions and called them, collectively, “Festibond.” Our Festibond celebration, in which we go on dates, write and read letters to each other, play games, put together puzzles, and eat way too many snacks, has always been my favorite day. Festibond 2016, our tenth, was Saturday. It was my favorite day of the whole year.
Kirsten died in May. Every day since has been, to some degree, more prosaic than if she were still here. I was concerned that Festibond this year would be somber instead of happy and joyful. Indeed, we missed her as we do always, but our celebration was wonderful, happy, heart-warming, and close, as I’d hoped. The girls have embraced the spirit of Festibond from its inception. Squabbles that would happen on other days don’t. Everybody pitches in to make it all happen. We smile, we laugh, there may be singing, and we give each other lots of hugs. It’s impossible to describe just how special and penetrating it is, but I am always moved and wish every day in our house could be more Festibond-like.
Festibond is always more than a single day; it is a multi-day period. This year the girls were off of school all week. During that time we played lots of games, cooked together, and enjoyed each other’s company. There’s a lot of planning and work that goes into Festibond. We had to plan and prepare the snacks, shop for new clothes for our Festibond photo, and decide what activities we’d do.
While most of the traditions are consistent from year to year, our celebration has evolved over the intervening decade. This year we decided to have our big day on New Year’s Eve since I wouldn’t have to work and it would roll right into a New Year’s celebration. We never have it on Christmas Day, since everything’s closed. For breakfast we planned to go to Miss Portland Diner. The girls wanted to stay at our loft instead of getting a hotel with a pool, which has been our practice the past few years. We would all write letters, which is my favorite part, put together a puzzle, watch movies, and eat copious amounts of snacks.
On Friday, Jenna made caramel popcorn using a recipe we’d gotten from Tonya’s mom, Kathy. While she was preparing that Hayley baked the triple chocolate chip cookies she always makes with Kirsten. After the cookies are baked she dips the edges in three different kinds of melted chocolate. They’re exorbitant and delicious! It was gut-wrenching to watch her make them alone, but she didn’t complain and seemed to enjoy the process. Skye made fudge.
I waited until Saturday morning to start my letters, despite very good intentions to start weeks early. After a couple were complete I got ready for the day and we went to breakfast. Breakfast at Miss Portland Diner was delicious, as always. Jenna got a chocolate chip bacon pancake. She shared a bite with me, which made me wished I’d have ordered that instead of my usual Irish omelette.
After breakfast we returned to the loft. Skye, Hayley, and I still had to finish up our letters. When we were done we started cutting up fruit and vegetables, making dip, and preparing guacamole. Nobody was going to be hungry during Festibond.
When Hayley was done with her last letter we all sat on the floor in the living room, near the kitchen. Jenna read her letters first. I went next, followed by Hayley and then Skye. The letters were poignant, funny, sweet, and sometimes deeply emotional and touching. As we read the letters, the spirit of love becomes nearly palpable. We laugh and we cry. After each letter is read, the reader and the recipient embrace. It’s always too short, but this year especially so. With Kirsten absent there were eight fewer letters read aloud, which was noticeable. It was much shorter than I’d liked, even though the letters were of their usual quality and length. Perhaps next year we’ll all read our letters twice.
After our letters were read we put together a puzzle, played Sorry™, and ate snacks. In the evening we played Cards Against Humanity™, which is hilarious. I love to see the girls laugh, even if sometimes the subject matter is a bit awkward.
Sometime during the day I received packages from Amazon and Crate and Barrel, which was mostly things for making espresso drinks. So, of course, I had to pull a few shots for the girls and myself. Hayley especially loved the tiny coffee spoons.
We decided to not make Kirsten’s Black Bean and Spinach Burritos as planned, since we were all stuffed from all the snacking throughout the day.
A few hours before midnight we sat on our crappy couch in the living room (I’ll be SO grateful for our new furniture to arrive any day now!) to watch movies. I picked “Space Balls” for our first. None of us had seen it, and it seemed silly. I fell asleep somewhere in the middle and woke up in 2017 at 00:15. Jenna had gone to bed and Skye and Hayley were still watching movies. I retired to my bed, feeling happy from Festibond and immensely grateful for all of the many wonderful things in my life, especially my three sweet, incredible, intelligent, and amazing daughters.