*****Christmas – 1743*****
They had faced far more than their fair share of hardships in the past year. And yet, new life had a way of giving hope to the hopeless and shedding light into the darkest despair of an otherwise desolate time.
So as they looked up to the bright Christmas moon, James and Claire Fraser breathed in the new life – their new life, the one they made together – and the hope that their child brought. They had no gifts to give, no real way to commemorate the day. All they had were scars and hand-me-down robes. But this day - their first child’s first Christmas - would be a day of joy nonetheless.
The promises of Christmases for ages past – of peace on Earth, goodwill to men – would carry them into a new year.
*****Christmas – 1746*****
Jamie Fraser prayed.
Now, of course, many people prayed when feeling desolate or desperate. They prayed as part of a routine, when they went into kirk on a Sunday or when a critical elder was looking over their shoulder. They prayed because that’s what they were supposed to do; reciting back lines of memorized text and then moving on with their day. Jamie had been no different for much of his life.
But now. Now, Jamie Fraser prayed as if he was breathing. He had gotten to the point in the last months where he hardly noticed the constant refrain that ran through his mind.
Lord, that she might be safe. She and the child.
Sometimes, however, his prayers morphed into something else entirely. Sometimes God felt too far away from this purgatory he was living. He would shift from specific prayers for his family to speaking directly to them as if the speaking would help them materialize from the mist. He would sit in his cave, speaking to his wife and child, sharing his heart in a way he could not do elsewhere.
So now, early on this December snowy morning, with his wee fire burning, and while he waited for darkness to fall again so he could celebrate the holiday with his sister, Jamie Fraser spoke with his family.
Happy Christmas, Sassenach. I ken every time we speak it seems that I’m just saying the same poor daft words over and over again. But I think that ye ken the truth of what I’m saying, aye? Ye did always seem to. Ye ken I love you. Ye hold my heart. And ye ken you and the bairn are in my prayers. Always.
Jamie rubbed a hand over his face. Christ, the ache in his heart made it hard to breathe some days. Hard to think. If he dwelt over long on his wife and the grief and fear that twisted within him, he would be no fit company for family tonight. So he turned his mind to a different track; no less grief-filled, perhaps, but one with all the hope and joy and pride that can only come when thinking of one’s own child.
Happy Christmas, wee one. ‘Tis your first one now, aye? I dinna ken what Christmas morn looks like where you are, but Christmas is Christmas, no matter what century, I suppose. The Lord kens how I pray for ye. Every day I pray you’re happy, that you’re healthy and well. I know you’re still so wee, but I wish I could lay my eyes on ye to see ye grow sae fast. I dinna ken even when your birthday is, how old exactly ye are now. It’s greedy of me, I ken that. You’re not here, living in fear, with no’ enough to eat and your Da hiding in a cave. And I’m so damn thankful.
But you’re not here. And some days I can hardly stand it.
This may truly be my purgatory. To not know how you fare, to not hold ye in my arms. But if that is the price to be paid for your peace, then I would gladly pay it again. I just hope someday ye ken how very cherished you are. You are my greatest blessing, wee one, even if we never meet this side of Heaven.
So Happy Christmas, m'annsachd.
I dinna have any gifts for ye, mo chuisle. But somewhere, wherever you are, I hope ye ken that I love ye. More than anything.
Say hello to your mother for me, aye? Give her a wee smile from yer Da.
One more deep breath. One more swipe at tear-filled eyes. And one more prayer for a Madonna and child, lost to the years, on this most holy of days.
Lord, that she might be safe. She and the child.
*****Christmas – 1948*****
“Brianna’s First Christmas”
Claire stared down at the red ornament in her hand, wondering for probably the tenth time that day how her life had come to this. She was sitting at her desk with flecks of gold and red on her fingers, late on the Friday evening before Christmas; her baby and her husband were asleep upstairs, and she was exhausted after a day full of malfunctioning stoves, faculty holiday parties, and craft paint.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
She was supposed to be cradling her newborn in a home full of family, with a different husband at her side, getting ready for a simple celebration, after a day of tending peat fires, conversations with tenants, and herb gardens.
Everything about her life over the past eight months felt like some sort of long, drawn-out make-believe; a world so fragile she felt it would fall apart with the snap of her fingers.
But babies have a way of interrupting maudlin thoughts with their own small needs, and Brianna Ellen was no stranger to making her needs known.
When the sound of her one-month-old waking and demanding attention grew, Claire pulled herself out of her reflections and rushed upstairs as quietly as she could, thanking her lucky stars that Frank was a heavy sleeper. Bree was hovering somewhere between the stages of hiccupping kettle about to boil and air raid siren and would not hesitate to make the jump given the slightest provocation.
Claire slipped into the nursery, scooped up her daughter (the little kettle had only just started to truly boil, thank you very much), and proceeded with the oft-repeated ritual of feeding, changing, rocking, and lulling back to sleep. Except that Bree was not at all interested in these last two activities, wiggling about and darting her big blue eyes in every direction, only seeming content when her mother had propped her up on a shoulder to have a proper look around.
“Oh, there we are! Is that much better?” Claire pressed a kiss to her cheek, unable to hold back a smile despite the darker places her mind had been roaming just previously. “Happy Christmas, baby girl. Are you just too excited to sleep?” She got a slow blink and a quiet coo in response. “Yes, it is Christmas soon. Come here, love, let’s walk around a bit, shall we?”
They made their way downstairs, Claire shushing and whispering the silly things that one can only say to a baby without sounding ridiculous. She bounced her slowly in her arms and lifted her to look at the simple decorations that they had put up the week before, just managing to catch Bree’s waving little hands before they grabbed onto a piece of tinsel.
“Yes, darling, the tinsel is very pretty, but we don’t want to eat it; I promise it’s very nasty.”
On their third lap of the living room, Bree’s eyes started to droop. On their sixth lap, she was finally asleep, her weight warm and solid, and it was safe enough for Claire to slip back upstairs to the nursery, settle in the rocking chair, and let her thoughts wander as she rocked her baby in the quiet of the night.
So, as Claire cuddled her most cherished gift in her arms, she did what she so rarely allowed herself to do. She so softly, barely to be heard, spoke to the man who had given her this gift.
Some days, the pain of even thinking his name was too much to bear. But in the sacred dark of a December night, holding their child close to her chest, she could let herself – just for a little while – be near her heart.
Can you see our little one? Wherever you are, can you see how fast she’s growing? I think she’s going to take after you, in more than just her hair. Oh, but her hair, Jamie! It’s just getting redder by the day. And I think her eyes are going to stay your beautiful blue.
I’m grateful for it.
And… And I’m grateful to you, my love. You gave me this gift, and then you made me keep it. You made me keep going, for the sake of our blessing. And oh, I wanted to hate you for it. But I’m so thankful. Our little girl is going to have the most beautiful life, and it’s all thanks to you. You gave her a future, even if you couldn’t see it yourself. And someday… Someday I promise she will know what you gave her. And I promise I will try my best for her. For you. I know you want me to be happy, to have so much life and hope.
I can’t do that yet, Jamie.
But I’ll try.
And our little one here will help.
So Happy Christmas, my love. Thank you for our girl. She’s the most perfect gift.
She held Bree a little tighter, shut her eyes a little harder, and took a deep breath.
Rest well, soldier.
As she laid her daughter to sleep, made the last rounds of the house, switched off lights, locked doors, and hung a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament on the tree, Claire Fraser prayed. She prayed for her daughter and her husband long gone.
And wherever he was, she thought he maybe knew it.