For many, the Christmas season lends itself to reminiscing like no other. I am no exception – I realized yesterday that it was my 7th Christmas spent with my husband’s immediate family and that it was finally starting to actually feel like Christmas. See, Christmas has always been my favorite time of year and until I got married, it looked reassuringly the same every year.
Growing up, my family had traditions – In the days leading up to Christmas, my mom, my sister Katie and I made Swedish coffee bread, spritz cookies, sugar cookies, white velvet cutout cookies, and peppermint fudge. We decorated the real Christmas tree together and always hung the same ornaments, pulled from the same boxes that we wrestled out of the basement. When it was done, Mom would vacuum the needles we’d knocked off and lovingly spread out the pieced tree skirt that my grandma had made.
Every Christmas day was spent just the four of us. Katie and I would beg my dad to hurry up and eat and shower so that we could finally sit down around the tree and open the gifts that my mom had painstakingly wrapped. (I still don’t know how she achieves such a perfect level of wrapping.) And one of the gifts was a movie that we would watch after lunch. And then the week after Christmas, we would go to my aunt’s house for a big gathering with my mom’s extended family. That’s what Christmas meant to me.
Since getting married however, Brian and I live so far away from my family that it is rare that I get to spend Christmas with my parents (my sister currently lives in Africa). So Christmas looks different – different people, different food, different traditions. Not bad – just different. The first Christmas was fun – I did all the baking, decked out my tree, enjoyed new things. But then the next year came and the next and when the newness wore off, I had this odd feeling of searching for Christmas. Now, as a Christian, Christmas is first and foremost about the birth of Christ and I can rejoice in that no matter where I am! But it still didn’t erase the need I felt for familiarity.
This year, I put up my tree just like I do every year (although I decorate differently for variety) and I spread under it the same tree skirt that I made the year we got married. As Christmas approached, we went to the farm just like we do every year. Brian’s sister Heather made the same Christmas treats she does every year. Then we headed to the living room and sat down in a circle in the living room like we do every year. Kevin had us read the Christmas story from the Bible, just like he does every year. My niece, Kristin, read it this year! One of us (this year, me because I didn’t put tags on my gifts ;)) distributed gifts one at a time like we do every year. And on Christmas Day, I got to Skype my parents, just like I do every year that I’m not there. And when it was all said and done, I looked forward to coming home. Home to our overstuffed little apartment with our comfy couch, familiar bed, empty fridge, and flocked fake Christmas tree. And as I reflected on the season, I realized that it felt normal, expected. Anticipated.
I don’t know if any other newlyweds struggle with this need for familiarity on holidays especially, but if you do, please know that it can get better! I will be the first to admit that I have the best “inlaw family” in the entire world – they are the sweetest and truly make me feel like I’ve been in the family forever. Every situation is different. And I know that once we have children of our own, Christmas will take on a whole new meaning and I look forward to blending traditions to make our own memories with them. Inevitably, as we age, Christmas is going to look different. Children grow up, loved ones pass away. But I truly believe that either through time or having kids of your own, or just intentionally establishing new Christmas traditions in your marriage that you can feel almost like you’re home for Christmas no matter who you spend it with.