As I’ve probably mentioned before, my little nuclear family of four (plus two dogs) lives far, far away from extended family. Not Columbus vs. Cleveland far. Thousands of miles away from either branch. I’m from Texas and my husband is from England, and while we’d both say we’re quite close with our parents and siblings, we get to see them once a year (maybe twice if extremely lucky). And with the holidays being one of the most egregious (and expensive!) times for air travel, these family visits almost never happen at Christmas.
After having lived in Columbus for ten years, you’d think that I’d be used to the idea of our cozy little solitary Christmases. But inevitably, as the holiday season rolls around and friends begin discussing Christmas plans with parents, in-laws, siblings and cousins, familiar bubbles of envy start to simmer in my sternum. Which is why this year, I’ve decided to list all the reasons I should not be bitter about it being “just us” on Christmas.
No Bickering Over Who Goes Where
Most of my friends with kids are still in the “young family” stage, wherein their own home, lovely though it may be, is not yet the designated family holiday gathering place. Therefore countless negotiations must be made each holiday season about which set of grandparents gets to host Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s, etc. While I do listen to some of these conversations with a “must be nice” kind of attitude, I also realize that some of my friends would be thrilled to be free of competing family demands at this already stressful time of year. And we are certainly free of those (unless you count orchestrating 3-4 different Skype conversations on Christmas day).
Presents, Presents and More Presents
So this is actually a blessing or a curse, depending on how minimalist-minded you are, but much like the fabled dual Christmases of divorce, far away grandparents really are keen to shower their grandkids with gifts. I, for one, appreciate it, and not just because it means fewer items for us to buy. My mom, for example, is the kind of person who hears about something my daughter or son is interested in and sends them books about it, just because. It’s her special way of letting them know she is thinking about them and is with them even though she doesn’t live down the street. Christmas is no different, and my kids have a great time remembering who sent them which toy or book or beloved t-shirt each year.
We Have to (Get to) Make Our Own Traditions
Not having family in town makes me extra conscious of trying to create special holiday memories and traditions for my kids. When I was a kid, Christmas meant a big, boisterous Christmas Eve with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, followed by a quiet Christmas morning at home and then more family fun back at the grandparents’ house later that day. Since my kids don’t get to experience that type of thing, I like to make sure we squeeze as much fun out of the month of December as possible. We cut down our own Christmas tree and put it up early–this year it was up the weekend before Thanksgiving! We listen to Christmas music all month long (and my kids are now old enough to critique the different versions of all the usual Christmas ballads, which I find entertaining). Most weekend evenings will find us driving around, looking at neighborhood light displays. And then there are the myriad holiday-themed events that spring up all over town, of which we are enthusiastic partakers (here is a great list of Columbus holiday events, compiled by my fabulous CMB co-contributors). My husband and I also have fun maintaining some of our own childhood holiday traditions, like Christmas crackers at dinner (these involve gunpowder, not flour), stockings filled with chocolate and magazines, and tamales (made for this Texas gal by her English husband–go figure). While I’m not usually one for quantity over quality, in this case, it works.
We Are Still Incredibly Fortunate
All silliness aside, the main reason I have for not being bitter about it being “just us” on Christmas is that we are still pretty darn lucky. While we miss our families, they are still living and just a phone call or Skype conversation away. We have each other. We are happy, healthy, sheltered and fed, and we have not experienced tragedy this year. I know several people personally who will be experiencing their first, second, third Christmas without a beloved family member, and I can’t imagine how painful that must be. So this Christmas I am reminding myself to look around and be thankful for all that I have instead of dwelling on what’s missing.