During our first year of marriage, Karen and I began sorting out what the family dynamics would look like as we approached the holidays. Thanksgiving has always been the big event for her side of the family, and Christmas for mine. The thing about our families is that they live far enough away that we have never been…and never could be…close to both of them regardless of where we live. As we moved here and there over the course of the last ten years, we basically split the difference and focused on spending as much time as possible with whichever set of parents was closer. Until we had our first daughter, we decided that the equitable thing to do was to simply alternate. One year we traveled to my parents for Christmas and hers for Thanksgiving, the next year we switched. This served us well until it was three of us instead of two.
After our first daughter, we decided that we would designate holidays. Since Thanksgiving is more important to her side of the family, we began traveling to her side then, and always to my side for Christmas. This arrangement seemed to work for everyone involved, and it has stayed that way until we moved back to New England a few years ago.
The interesting thing about how we handled the holidays is that spending one at home really wasn’t something for which we were ever prepared. We never gave it much thought, with the exception of one year that Karen was in a new job and didn’t have the vacation available to travel. Otherwise, when the holidays arrived, we were out of town. When we had our oldest, we decided she would learn to travel early (she did great, by the way).
When we were still living in North Carolina and were pregnant with our second daughter, though, this shifted in an epiphanic way. Karen was too late in the pregnancy to travel that Christmas, so we had been planning one at home for several months. We put effort into the event, planning food and stockings for our daughter in ways that we just hadn’t before. How would we intentionally integrate our Christian tradition? How would we eschew materialism? We hadn’t had to be intentional about these things before.
That Christmas morning, our daughter awoke so excited she literally forgot how to climb out of her bed. Having breakfast together, opening gifts, playing and being together through the day…yes, we missed being with family, but we felt like a family of our own in a way that we hadn’t prior to that Christmas. This waypoint shifted the way we look at how we celebrate Christmas.
Since settling back in New England three years ago, we’ve had mixed success in traveling for the holidays. This year, we had our first conversation around what traditions we would bring into the marriage for Christmas celebrations. What will our children grow up with in the way of traditions? Ten years into our marriage, this is the first time we had entertained this discussion. It was difficult. While we share a common faith, our family backgrounds and solidified preferences in how we practice that faith are actually quite different, and this is at its most obvious when thinking about the holiday season.
We currently have a somewhat working arrangement for Advent and Christmas, which we’ll re-assess again next year. I think that it will take some time get this right. I am not a fan of tradition or routine, but I find that I crave them at Christmas. I was even defensive of some things that my family did during my childhood that just wouldn’t translate for ours. Moving past that, it’s important to have these traditions, especially faith traditions for the holiday. What it teaches, the depth that it cultivates within the context of our rampant consumerism…it is so important for our children to grow up with a foundation.
When it comes to Christmas, I don’t exactly know what that foundation will look like. At least not yet.
When we arrive at a decision, though, it will be our tradition.
I just wish we hadn’t waited so long.