It’s that time again. How do I know? Because of that old string of red chili pepper lights from Albuquerque. We bought them more than 30 years ago for our first Christmas together, yet every one of those chilies still lights up when I plug them in. He’s been gone six years now. Our love died before he did, at least officially, according to the divorce decree. But every Christmas, just like the red chili peppers, my heart glows red and I remember him. — Marla West


Every Christmas, I drape the chili lights on the fireplace mantle in honor of him.

She said she understood why we couldn’t spend Christmas together. I sent her so many “I miss you” texts. “Your parents will come around someday,” she replied. She spent the day alone in our apartment, not texting me much so I wouldn’t sense her sadness. I sensed it anyway. So I said an early goodbye to my family in Kentucky and drove 7 and a half hours back to Iowa, arriving in time to sleep next to her under our string lights. That is when I learned what really matters on a day like Christmas: being around the person you love most. — Amanda Hancock

Together in a snowstorm (I’m on the left, and Ashley is on the right).

The first Christmas we were newly dating, and I was sure we would be madly in love soon. The second Christmas came during our relationship low: I was disappointed that we had never used the “L” word. I became obsessed with this “saying ‘I love you’ thing,” measuring our relationship against its nonexistence, certain I would not bring him, absent those words, to a third Christmas at my parents’ home. But I could not abide by my own ultimatum. I don’t want to be without him. If you’re reading this, Nick, I love you. — Tara Wilson

Hiking in Chamonix, France.

At home over winter break, I open the box of relics from my first relationship. There are sheafs of handwritten notes, handpicked flowers painted gold, Christmas songs and brass trumpets and photos of high schoolers resplendent in red and green polo shirts, standing among fake Christmas trees and cotton-ball snow. I read through love letters signed with hopeful endings, sonnets expressing feelings that we were not ready to express ourselves. Sitting in my childhood room, I marvel at these precious memories flooding back. This, in itself, is a gift. — Marissa Young

More Tiny Love Stories
Tiny Love Stories: ‘We Need to End Whatever This Is’

Tiny Love Stories: ‘We Were Wearing Identical Lederhosen’