Christmas traditions and changes
I’m not sure how traditions become traditions. I suppose many times traditions start as just routines or habits – things we do because we’ve always done them or because our family has always done them.
I think when routines are passed down, that’s when we start to call them traditions. It’s special because doing whatever that thing is – baking cookies (and eating them) or putting up decorations or singing a song together – reminds us of people. Those things also fill up our senses. They give us familiar smells, yummy tastes, beautiful sights, interesting textures and lovely sounds.
Combine the fulfillment of those five senses, and the happiness we feel starts to spill over into and then out of our hearts. We begin to take comfort in those traditions because of the memories and emotions they stir. Those are all good things.
Of course, the holiday season is full of traditions, and, boy, am I learning a lot about Christmas traditions this year.
When I was a child, one of our Christmas traditions involved a huge family gathering on Christmas Eve. Lots of people congregated at our house for eating, talking, yelling, laughing and opening presents. After everyone left, my brother and I would try to wind down. It was difficult, though, because we were always so excited to see what Santa would bring us. On Christmas morning, it was just the four of us – my parents, my brother and me. Later in the day, after playing with our toys and trying on new clothes, we would venture out to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, even though we’d just seen them the previous day. These traditions continued until I moved out of my parents’ house when I got married.
I have to admit – it was strange not to stay at my parents’ house Christmas Eve and wake up there Christmas morning. Even after Elliot was born, being at our house with our little family of three seemed lonely to me. Not liking that feeling, I decided we would return to the tradition I had known for so long; we would have Christmas morning festivities at my parents’ house! My brother, along with his wife and their children, also joined the madness. Then we would head out to visit and exchange gifts with Mike’s family.
Since Elliot was 18 months old, that is how Christmas went down for us. When we lived near my parents, it was fairly easy to pack up all the presents and drive to their house. Moving about an hour and a half away made Christmas traveling significantly more difficult, but with one 3-year-old, we did it anyway. It was my tradition, and I felt like I couldn’t abandon it.
As the gifts got larger and more complicated, the holiday travels became more stressful. In 2011, my belly grew with Baby No. 2, and she joined the Christmas chaos in 2012. It was the year that broke this mama’s Christmas spirit. I started to resent Christmas – the traveling and the schlepping. After Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and then visiting family members, we got in the car to return home. I felt sad. I used to love Christmas so much, but I hated what it had become. At that moment, I vowed to my husband, “We are not doing this next year.” He eyed me curiously, half-heartedly answering, “OK. We’ll worry about it next year. Let’s just go home.” He figured I would change my mind and subject him and our two little darlings to the same craziness in 12 months.
We made it back feeling completely drained. We summoned an ounce of excitement from somewhere and reminded Elliot that Santa had visited our house while we were gone and he still had gifts to open. Cecilia didn’t care; she was eight months old at the time.
After the torn wrapping paper, ribbons and bows were discarded and the children were in bed, I collapsed like one of those freaky, wavy, blow-up figures on top of flea market buildings that had been turned off. My after-Christmas depression had already set in. The Christmas of 2012 – Cecilia’s first Christmas – was over.
Over these weeks leading up to Christmas 2013, my leftover feelings from last year have not faded. I do not want a repeat. So, we cut way back. The biggest change: NO TRAVELING. While this seemed like a no-brainer, given all of the above commentary, it was an agonizing decision, especially for me. You see, my husband and I love our families – our parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and other extended family members. What we don’t love are hours in the car, meltdowns and overstimulation. It is all too much for our children and us.
I want my children to enjoy Christmas, to savor it. I believe a huge part of why I grew up loving Christmastime is because I got to spend the majority of it in my own house. This year I am giving my children that opportunity – the chance to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in their own house. Part of me is sad because I am diverging from what has been a long-standing tradition for me. But the other part of me is ready to start a new tradition.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned through all of this is that one changed tradition has a ripple effect. Because we have chosen not to stay at my parents’ house Christmas Eve, my brother’s family decided the same; they are staying at their own house. Instead of hosting their children and grandchildren, my parents are splitting their Christmas Day time with my brother and me. Now they will be the ones traveling. Inevitably, others will not be traveling to visit us because they have children and commitments of their own. It is hard because we will miss seeing them on Christmas.
Christmas is changing for me, and that is OK. It seems quite fitting, actually, given that the reason we celebrate Christmas brought with him the power to change the world. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Originally published on ovparent.com.