After years of waffling, last year I told my sister I would come to her house for Christmas Eve. And then my heart promptly broke into 1,000 pieces. Luckily, it isn’t an issue yet. My sister, brother-in-law, and niece are coming to our extended family’s Christmas Eve celebration. It’s been going on since the 1940s, and it’s the only tradition in my life that has never changed.
I was destroyed when my grandparents died in 1997, and Christmas Eve is the one night of the year that I feel them. They are spiritually with me, and it’s wrapped in the tradition and extended family. My sister wants her family to be able to build a tradition, and I understand that. This is the problem--I actually do understand.
It’s not about me being stubborn and selfish, though it often appears that way. I’m single and childless, so I’ve learned how to take one for the team with friends, family, and coworkers due to my lack of “extras.” But many times this leaves me feeling bitter, angry, and like I have been forced into a situation just because I’m the single one.
To many people, Christmas Eve is just another day, but it’s huge to me. I don’t want to hurt my family with this issue. Am I a horrible person? Should I sacrifice my needs and wants for others? How much is too much? How much is not enough? And then I get all ruffled about it and want to scream: FINE! SCREW MY CHRISTMAS! WHATEVS! YES, I’M SINGLE AND CHILDLESS! I REALIZE MY LIFE HAS NO PURPOSE! Ahem.
I know my family Christmas Eve will end one day. The older generation will die. The younger generation is all over the place. It’s ending, and it hurts. How do I reconcile these emotions to keep Christmas Eve special to me? How do I let go of something I hold so dear? But I know I have to one day because I can’t handle the thought of my beautiful niece asking me why I didn’t come to her house. Disappointing her would be the greatest pain of all.
Blondie writes at Tales from Clark Street. She likes to pretend she is anonymous, but she will share that she’s a writer/editor for educational publishers. She enjoys orchids, reading, and ruffling her sister Rita's feathers.
Last Christmas, my husband and I packed a Corolla with gifts for my parents, sister and daughter. I quickly realized he and I would have to exchange gifts at home later, because ours wouldn’t actually fit in the car. And it was snowing and past six and we hadn’t left yet for a three-hour drive after a full day of work. I started crying from exhaustion, because I didn’t want to go.
I didn’t want to sleep in an unfamiliar bed and keep my daughter busy in my parents’ house for three days and drive hours through the snow like I’ve done every year since I left home. I don’t live in the same town as my parents, like my sister does. I live over the river and down I-29. And yes, that moving away thing was my choice. I OWN MY CHOICE. But I still want them to come to me. Every other year.
I want to wake up next to the tree I spend more time decorating than my mom does hers, because I have six-year-old help. I want to host a big dinner on my card table, serve breakfast on my plates. MINE MINE MINE. My husband’s family trades off Thanksgiving. Why can’t mine trade off Christmas?
One year, we tried to stay home. We drove up to my parents’ house on the 26th and spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day in Kansas City. It was a disaster. It felt off. We missed my parents and sister. So I called my parents and said something awesome like, “It’s not fair!” My parents said they would come to us next year. At the time, my sis still said she couldn’t.
I understand what my extended family’s Christmas Eve means to my sister. It would still mean all that to me if I hadn’t reduced by necessity of gained roles the weight of my feelings by half and then two-thirds as I became wife and mother. My Christmases changed a long time ago. I’m jealous hers haven’t changed yet. And I still want her to come here.
Rita Arens authors Surrender, Dorothy and is BlogHer.com’s assignment and syndication editor. Her parenting anthology and BlogHer's first book, Sleep is for the Weak, was published by Chicago Review Press in September 2008 and won a 2009 gold NAPPA. She really does love her sister Blondie.
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