Sunday, December 18, 2011
It's that time of year - the holidays. Regardless of your beliefs, everyone has certain traditions they follow each year. Maybe that is boycotting malls or getting tipsy at the office party. But more often I think it involves gathering with family and friends to celebrate. Everyone holds on to their personal traditions with a death grip. This becomes complicated when families merge.
Thankfully, my family and Andy's family had traditions that did not conflict. Not coming from an overly religious upbringing, Easter was never a big deal in my family once we got beyond Easter Egg age. It has always been a time to gather for Andy's side. Getting together at his Aunt's house each Spring on the Cape has always been fun for me, and my family is not put out because of it. Because we spend Easter with Andy's side, and his family in general is more local to us, we have been spending each Thanksgiving with my side. Thanksgiving has become more scattered for his family over the years so as a result, we aren't the only folks MIA. Christmas is the final remaining biggie of the holidays. Where does the tie-breaker fall so to speak?
Andy's family has always gathered on Christmas Eve. My family has always celebrated more on Christmas Day. So each year we have split the holiday between the two, starting out up here and then making our way down there. It has always felt a bit like how Santa must feel, always on the go from one festive spot to another, with a trail of presents crammed in the vehicle. Except Santa's sleigh works more efficiently than sitting in icy traffic on the Mass. Pike.
Last year, we took over the hosting of Christmas Eve. We were more centrally located for everyone and had more space for the little ones to run laps around the tree, hyped up on sugar and the anticipation of gifts. Because we were hosting, we weren't exactly able to pack up and hit the road mid-evening to make our usual arrival at my folks'. And there's no fun in waking up in one house and then traveling to another to open gifts on Christmas morning. So we invited my family up for Christmas Eve and had them stay over to celebrate Christmas Day in our home instead.
Luckily for us, our families get along. Everyone is friendly, fun and welcoming. They don't get together all that often, but it is enough for everyone to be able to have a social conversation and enjoy each others company. For us, it was the best of both worlds, having everyone come to us. Sure, cleaning and decorating the house, preparing food and drinks and entertaining the masses is a lot of work. But not having to drag ourselves, the cat, luggage and packages from state to state, in wintry weather throughout the night is not a lot of fun either. We've been doing it for over 15 years. It is nice to have others come to us for a change.
The tradeoff for this is that two family's traditions have been changed. Andy's Aunt no longer hosts Christmas Eve. I know that she loves entertaining her loved ones. She had close family friends in the neighborhood that would stop in to join us every year. They aren't about to make the trek over to our place like they did to hers. The bustle of everyone wreaking havoc in her home made her home feel more vibrant and brought back memories. She lives where she grew up, in her parents' home. This home was the center of family memories for generations.
My parents no longer host Christmas Day. Growing up, we moved every few years because my father kept taking on better opportunities within his company. We never lived near where my parents grew up and where our extended family lived. Christmas was always just the four of us, my parents, my brother and me. My mother has a mammoth collection of ornaments, and her tree overflows each year from them. They mark places, people and events that are important to her and to us as a family. Some of them are homemade baubles and others are fine crystal tokens. We could go off and spend Christmas Eve visiting our friends and their families, but Christmas Day we spent together as a family. My mother's tree is no longer the one with all of the gifts placed beneath it. My father's old Christmas records are no longer our musical entertainment that morning.
This shift in traditions has been bittersweet I'm sure for Andy's Aunt and for my mother and father. They have had to let go of the traditions they provided for so many years. With baby Sammy in the mix, we have created our own family, ready for some new traditions of our own. First on that list is the merging of the people that Sammy loves the most - his family. My side, Andy's side. They aren't sides to Sammy. They are one family unit. I feel blessed that this unit lives near enough to work to make this happen. And that they care enough to give up some of their own favorite things to help create new ones.
Andy's Aunt still makes her yummy meatballs and spoils all the kids with endless gifts that are perfect and make each child feel special. My parents still bring up favorite ornaments for my brother and I to hang on my tree, just as we have done on theirs every year. But the traditions aren't about the home, the food or the gifts. They are about seeing each other to share a hug, a laugh and letting the kids go a little nuts from too much excitement. Families can't always be together for the holidays. Sometimes you have to make a choice between two sides. Trying to do both can generally make things more stressful. Have a guilt-free holiday and create new traditions wherever you roam!