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How I’m Keeping Holiday Magic Alive While Co-Parenting Over Christmas

“Will Santa go to both places?” My six-year-old daughter Vivian asked, with concern in her eyes. After assuring her that Santa visits both of her homes, it really sunk in: sharing time with my kids after my divorce means keeping the magic of Christmas alive when it looks totally different.

Last year was the first Christmas after my divorce but our kids were with me. This year will be the first time I don’t see the kids running to the tree at the crack of dawn; instead they’ll visit me and open the rest of their gifts after time with their dad. At least by then I will be caffeinated.

One of the most difficult parts about sharing time with your children is accepting the feeling of grief over missing them and shielding it off freely. This year, to ease my mind from dwelling on what won’t happen on Christmas, I’m trying to focus on creating new traditions to withstand each year, whether or not my kids, Phoenix, 9, and Vivian 6, are with me bright and early on Christmas morning. 

“This year will be the first time I don’t see the kids running to the tree at the crack of dawn.”

The tree is still a work in progress. Knowing I would have one less week with my kids before Christmas, it went up earlier than last year when I first bought the artificial 7-and-a-half foot tree, a slim Virginia Pine with clear lights. It was purchased after dreaming of a real tree, but the idea of dragging one up two flights of stairs by myself didn’t evoke a jolly feeling, so I opted for an artificial one, packaged in a box and delivered right to my door.

During my lunch break at my remote job, I set up the three parts that stick together and flattened out the bendable branches. It was perfect. Last year we went basic and the kids and I hung up red-white-and-silver ornaments of various shapes and pretty angels from a pack of 40. This year, we added basketball balls and snowman ornaments, along with wooden decorations with our names carved into them, from my mom.  

The sight of the tree aglow, even without a decorative tree skirt, made the stress of picking up life and starting again suddenly less intense. 

The thing is, continuing on after divorce can mean that holiday traditions get left behind for the sake of a fresh start. Last year, I had ordered new stockings with my kids’ names on them and two snow globes, something special to make the home feel festive. This year, I’m planning to give the kids new nutcrackers to display or play with. Maybe next year we will get a wreath or,  I tell my son, maybe a remote control train set to travel around the tree.

This time of year also brings a longing to see my mother, my sister, and my nieces, and share a meal or bake cookies together. It won’t be possible though — not every family gets to share time together in person over the holidays, sometimes the distance and expense are both out of reach, and phone calls are made, packages are sent, and text messages with photos are swapped. Not having my immediate family nearby is more reason to include Italian cookies in the brunch I’m preparing on Christmas morning with my kids.

“While my kids are shuffled from home to home this Christmas, a new ritual will have begun.”

While my kids are shuffled from home to home this Christmas, a new ritual will have begun. To fight my sadness for waking up without their little feet running to the living room at dawn, I’m planning a special meal for the kiddos to enjoy after we open gifts. I’m a wreck in the kitchen, typically keeping things simple, but this year they can decorate their pancakes with sprinkles and other toppings and drink hot cocoa. We will also dip pretzels and fruit into melted chocolate, a tradition started by my parents. 

And if it all burns, I will have some frozen waffles ready. 

I remember my mom’s fingers red with food coloring from making candy cane cookies during my childhood and the advent calendar bringing excitement to the countdown to Christmas morning. I look at our Christmas tree remembering that the year before my parents separated, Santa brought me a beautiful doll with blue eyeshadow and blush on her cheeks. When I used a washcloth, I could remove the makeup and then it would appear again after the doll’s face dried and it was magic to my young eyes. I held the doll close, knowing love was all around me. It’s the same feeling of joy I anticipate experiencing when I open the door and my kids arrive to open gifts this year. 

Some traditions remain intact no matter the parents’ schedule. Santa comes no matter where my kids wake up on Christmas morning, and this year will be more meaningful than ever. Especially when they see that Santa still drank the milk on the table and left half a cookie behind, just for their wishful eyes to see.

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