This year, much like last year—and the few years before that—Christmas with our family will be different. I can’t even remember a year in the past decade or so where someone wasn’t mad at someone else, so they didn’t come, or another family member decided on a whim to travel somewhere, or just arrive late and mess up the flow of the day. It’s as if Christmas traditions are allergic to my family.
My Christmas Traditions Growing Up
When I was growing up, we at least had some kind of Christmas traditions. Christmas Day, the entire family arrived at my Gran’s house by about noon. Present opening was a blur of ripped paper, almost in a competition to see who could open all their presents fastest. Every year at least one person opened someone else’s gift by accident. This once led to my uncle holding up a pink blouse in confusion one year after misreading his name on the tag. Presents were lost in the mess of torn up wrapping paper, tags went missing in our pile and in the hours following, the sheepish “who gave me this?” question had to be asked about half the presents in the stack. My Gran would wander around, cigarette in one hand, can of cola in the other, inspecting everyone’s presents to see what we got—and what she could steal or trade for. Receipts were doled out for presents that didn’t quite make the muster and needed to be returned.
I was never sure why we had to be so frantic in our present opening. Dinner’s hours away and the only thing to do is make the same conversation over and over again. After sorting and piling the presents into their respective piles of course.
But even this strange “traditional” type Christmas went down the drain about five years ago when my Gran was first diagnosed with dementia. Having too many people around wasn’t ideal for her so Christmas was essentially cancelled. We did get together with a few family members and had a good time, but it was strange. The following year was even stranger as my Gran was in a care home. So we had Christmas at her house, but without her there.
Hopes For Normalcy
Then I had Babygirl, and Gran passed away, and our Christmas traditions became totally different again. Babygirl was 11 months old on her first Christmas so she kinda “got it” and it was magical to see her rip open presents and discover this cool thing called Christmas. So we started the new tradition of holding Christmas at my cousin’s house. My cousin agreed with me on the “why rip open all of our presents at once?” question. So we introduced “slow Christmas” where everyone took a turn opening a present, thus being able to thank the correct person and have some inkling after about who gave you what. You’d think all of this would be pretty cool—but a few family members opted not to come. So Christmas got strange again. And last year we once again held it at my cousin’s house, and those missing family members came! But a few others skipped it…
Now we’re upon this Christmas season…but this year my cousin has moved, so half of our family will be celebrating in his town, with the rest of us here. Likely the celebrations will be at our (small, not totally Christmas-equipped) home. I’m already feeling the strangeness (and stress!) of this year, and we are still a few weeks away!
Our Future Christmas Traditions
Babygirl is almost three now. I feel like I need to start some type of holiday tradition with her since we don’t have any. And at this rate, are unlikely to have one in the future, a stable “traditional” Christmas Day that is. I’m on the lookout for something that’s the right fit for our little family of three. Even if it doesn’t involve Christmas Day’s strangeness. We’ve decorated and baked. But as a creative person, I have been trying to incorporate that into our routines year-round. So it doesn’t feel special enough. Although I feel a bit guilty about it, we’re not “church people” so that doesn’t feel right either. There will be some Christmas festivities in our town in the coming weeks. But they involve big crowds and usually standing in the rain/cold. So although we may do them (weather pending) it’s not likely something we can commit to yearly.
I feel like I’m looking too hard, and panicking because Christmas is almost here. A friend has told me that NO tradition can be our tradition, but that doesn’t feel right. It may be the way it has to be…but it doesn’t feel right.
So, my question now is: Are Christmas traditions something you actively start? Or are they something that just comes generically, until you realize that it’s a tradition for your family? Am I stressing too hard, will tradition find us?