It was “Feliz Navidad” that did us in. 

Georgia and I were driving to school yesterday morning (she has two days of school this week – thanks, Hurricane Ida), and we were both cheerful – me because I am off all week and her because my being off meant that I could drive her to school, a rare treat for us both. 

She was eating her toast in the car and I was drinking my coffee while we chatted about what we’re planning to do this week and what kind of pies we should make for Thanksgiving. I was flipping through the channels and landed briefly on 101.9, already playing nonstop Christmas music, which I hate and she loves. 

“Please, Mom,” she begged when I was about to change the station. “It’s ‘Frosty the Snowman.’ I love ‘Frosty the Snowman.’”

So I left it. “Frosty” faded away into “Feliz Navidad.” And then Georgia and I were both crying. 

My mom – Georgia’s beloved Gigi – had a annoying dancing Christmas tree toy that played “Feliz Navidad,” and she and Georgia would torment me with it every year as we decorated the tree at her house, both of them cackling as I made a big show of covering my ears and dramatically pleading with them to stop. 

That song on the radio made us both realize that our traditions are going to look very different this year. 

“How can such a happy song make us so sad?” Georgia asked as I passed her a tissue from the front seat. 

“Well, I think it’s bittersweet,” I told her. “It makes us sad but only because we were so lucky to have someone we loved so much and so many happy memories.” 

This is going to be a hard stretch. My mom adored Christmas and started decorating the day after Thanksgiving. She had a nativity set that started out traditional but had expanded over the years with various animals: She let each of my daughters pick an animal every year and she would go out of her way to track a miniature version of it down and add it to the nativity – flamingoes, corgis, koalas, parrots. They looked forward to unpacking it every year at Christmastime. 

I never really get into decorating for the holidays … but he nativity will be at my house this year … and so will the obnoxious dancing Christmas tree. 

It won’t be the same without my mom here, not even close. But we will cherish these traditions because we must continue them — they’re a way to keep her spirit alive and honor her memory. 

Feliz Navidad, everyone.