What I remember most about my daughter’s first Christmas is packing up the car with piles of gifts and what seemed like everything imaginable from her nursery, our kitchen and the bathroom — not once but twice: first to visit my in-laws and then to visit my parents.
I remember looking at our Christmas tree longingly as I shut the door behind me. And I remember telling my husband as we pulled out of the driveway that this was last year I was traveling on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
The following year, we invited both sets of parents to visit us for Christmas, explaining that we wanted our daughter to grow up with her own set of Christmas traditions in her own house. As a kid, I always remembered being rushed to open my presents and then being told I could bring one with me in the car for the ride to visit both sets of grandparents, where we would sit down to two Christmas dinners in one day.
The first year we had Christmas in our own house both sets of parents visited us for Christmas. After that, my parents dutifully came every year and my in-laws made the trip a few times.
But, honestly, that was stressful, too. Instead of packing up the car and driving we had to do a ton of grocery shopping, serve three meals a day, clean up after guests, plan activities and keep everyone entertained.
I remember one Christmas night my husband and I climbed into bed and realized we hadn’t really spoken to each other much that day. We also hadn’t spent much time with our daughter other than the rushed gift exchange in the morning. Instead, we had spent the entire day cooking a huge breakfast and then a huge dinner… and we vowed not to do that again.
Last year we tried something completely different: We went to the movies and then out to dinner on Christmas Day and made plans to visit each set of parents during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, giving my husband, daughter and me an absolutely free day to relax and spend time together. I cannot tell you how freeing an experience that was.
We spent Christmas Eve with friends. My daughter is an only child, and there are no young cousins in our immediate family, so I think she enjoyed having Christmas Eve dinner with other kids her own age.
On Christmas Day, we made a huge breakfast, opened gifts by the fireplace, played cards and then met friends at the movie theater and had dinner with them afterwards. The next day we went to visit my in-laws for two days. We came for home for a few days, and then went to visit my parents. If anything, our Christmas celebration was extended and my husband, 13-year-old daughter and I were given a much-needed respite in the midst of the crazy holiday season.
Considering that the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the average American is expected to travel 275 miles to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with their families, we are definitely bucking tradition to create our own Christmas.
When I first told my parents we were staying home for Christmas, I think they were a little sad, but they seemed to understand. I’m not sure how much they had liked rushing around to visit relatives on Christmas Day either when I was kid. I’m thankful that my parents and in-laws understand this — or have at least accepted it — but not everyone does.
While visiting my husband’s cousin over the summer, I mentioned that I couldn’t wait to see Star Wars on Christmas Day. His cousin looked at me quizzically so I explained we like to go to the movies and dinner on Christmas Day. She immediately insisted we come to her house for Christmas this year so we would be with family (I should mention they live about 500 miles from our house).
I thanked her for the invitation and explained that we choose to spend the holiday doing what we want to do, rather than running around, making dinner and pleasing others. I don’t think she agreed with our choice. To her, we were choosing to be alone for Christmas, while we think of it as choosing to spend time together as a family.
We still attend mass, we still exchange gifts and we still (eventually) see our families and celebrate with them. But, we take one day for ourselves.
Isn’t the true meaning of Christmas to be peaceful?