Growing up, Christmas was the same every year. We would open presents at our house Christmas Eve and then get up early to travel to my grandparents’ house Christmas morning. We have a big family – so our holidays were always loud and chaotic. The food was always the same, my grandmother’s decorations were always the same, the smells and sounds of their house were always the same, and the feeling of being surrounded by family is what made Christmas special.
Now, I’m a mom. And our holidays don’t look anything like the ones from my childhood. Toward the beginning of our marriage, our personal belongings were in storage for several years. So all of my special ornaments and decorations stayed tucked away. Since then, we’ve moved every year or two – so “local” events and traditions have been different each Christmas. And for the past three years, we’ve lived several hours from our families, and my husband’s work schedule has made holiday travel impossible – so instead of big, loud families celebrations, it’s just the three of us.
Over the years, my wonderful memories of Christmas, and the fact that my son’s holidays look so different, has broken my heart. I’ve grasped at anything we can call tradition. I’ve cooked giant meals for my tiny family, that needlessly fill my refrigerator with more leftovers than we can eat. I’ve tried to orchestrate traditions in new places and I’ve desperately tried to create some of the magic I remember from my own childhood. I am always left sad and disappointed. Every year, I feel like I have failed to make Christmas special enough.
I tried really hard to look at things differently this year. I looked back on the Christmas ‘adventures’ our family has gone on for the past five years. Everything from an all-day hiking trip in the Berkshires, to watching a reenactment of George Washington’s “Christmas Crossing” of the Delaware river during the Revolutionary War. Last year, we went to NYC to see the decorations and my son got to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time. It was such a special day. Although they are different every year, we have precious memories of each Christmas. In a way, doing something totally new and different every year has become our family tradition. And I’ve finally grown to love that!
This year, we had a hard time coming up with ideas. Our original plans didn’t work out and we ended up spending the afternoon at an arcade. Nothing special. And although I’ve given up the idea of every Christmas looking the same, I really worried that this one fell very short.
But the day after Christmas, I realized that simple can still be special when my son said, “Yesterday was so fun! We should do that every year!” We won’t, of course. There’s a good chance we’ll live somewhere new next year and we’ll come up with something we’ve never done – because that’s what the holidays are to my family. New experiences, crazy adventures, time together. It’s not what most people consider a traditional way to spend the holidays – but it has become our own unique tradition. We still celebrate the birth of Christ and the gift of family. We just do it in our own way.
It’s easy to get caught up in having an instagram life – and the holidays can bring that out even more. Perfect decorations, perfect Christmas tree, perfect big family dinner. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to what we see others doing – and it’s easy to feel like we’re falling short. But whatever makes Christmas special for YOUR family, whether it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting or an afternoon at the arcade.