As we head into the holiday season, I’ve been reminiscing about what the holidays meant for me as a kid, now that I have my own family.
My parents divorced when I was young, but the holidays were always a point of consistency that I looked forward to. It was the time each year when all that mattered was family and FOOD!
Christmas Eve was always spent with my Dad’s family, and Christmas Day with my Mother’s family. Eventually, as my Dad’s side of the family grew (I am the youngest of 27 cousins!), the family celebration was moved from my Grandparents basement rec room to a reception hall on the Sunday before Christmas. Though I am not super close to my cousins due to large age gaps, the tradition is close to my heart, and truly demonstrates to me the depth of family ties as over 100 of my Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Second-Cousins (of which my kids are #52 AND #54!), and now even some Third-Cousins from across the USA and Europe gather each year to celebrate Christmas together!
After college, there was now another family to celebrate with – my husband’s!
We tried to “do it all” for a couple of years, traveling from one house to another on Thanksgiving and Christmas, doing our best to see everyone. It was exhausting! The holidays lost their shine a bit – and we were still young and kid free!
Fast forward a few years and we now had a daughter and our own little family! We tried to do it the way we always did, shuttling around from house to house – but this time I was a new mother with a nursing infant in tow! Suffice to say… it wasn’t awesome! We couldn’t please anyone. For my husband and I who both grew up loving and anticipating the holiday season each year, it was a huge gut check. We knew something had to change, but we weren’t sure what, and we knew that whatever choices we made, someone was sure to feel slighted.
Thanksgiving has settled into a routine that we really enjoy, we spend the day with my sisters and their kids and we rotate the hosting duties each year. Even that though will probably change again in the next few years as my nephews and niece are all in their 20’s getting into their own adult grooves, and with the oldest having a family of his own now.
Christmas is still evolving as life keeps moving too. Christmas Eve dinner isn’t the same now that my Dad has passed, though I still make the same meal he would make for us – Chop Suey. Yes, we always ate Chinese food for Christmas. My Dad made it so well. I still have his electric skillet – a wonderful memento from my childhood – so I like to think he’s celebrating with us in spirit. We open gifts with the kids on Christmas Eve which I enjoyed as a child with my parents.
My husband and I decided that it was important to us to form our own traditions.
We spend Christmas Morning in our home, opening gifts from Santa, enjoying brunch, playing with new toys, and sipping coffee in our pajamas in front of the fireplace. We invite our parents to spend the afternoon and eat dinner with us. For the past few years, we celebrate with my husbands entire family, usually on the Saturday closest to Christmas which seems to work well and allow us all to celebrate with our kids, in-laws, and still get the whole family together for an afternoon.
Aside from the “day-of” celebrations, there is one tradition that I’ve had with my mom for coming up on 30 years now – Cookie Day! Since I was maybe 7 or so, she and I have spent an entire day in the kitchen, a week or so before Christmas, baking dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies to share with friends and family!
The holiday season seems even more special now from my newest perspective as a mother, and it’s pretty profound to witness my kids enjoying the same traditions that I did. To see them surrounded by the love of family. To watch them roll dough and bake cookies with when I swear they were just newborn babes a minute ago. To watch their faces as they listen to my Dad’s recording of The Night Before Christmas. To see their eyes light up looking at lights on the tree. Watching all of the classic Christmas specials on TV. And yes, to watch the joy as they tear open a few gifts as well!
I absolutely love the traditions my husband and I are keeping and creating with our family, but I also know that they will morph or cease, and new ones will begin as time goes on. I hope that I can be graceful about the changes as they come, and remember that tradition isn’t the heart of the holidays, family is. And families grow and change too.
What are your favorite holiday traditions?
How has becoming a parent changed the holidays for you?