Every year, Dan and Miss G & I head to Tucson to celebrate Christmas with my folks and my siblings. But Miss L spends Christmas with her Mom’s family, so we do a separate celebration for our immediate foursome. Or at least, we try. Shifting custody schedules and other-parent-snarkiness have combined to make Christmas pretty squirrely at our house. The annual uncertainty of when or how we’ll manage to celebrate has been the only holiday tradition we’ve managed so far, something that deeply offends my Christmas vibe. It’s hard to feel merry and grouchy at the same time.
I should have learned to roll with this kind of thing by now. God knows nothing else in our lives is peaceful or settled. But I grew up in a family that was serious about its traditions, especially at Christmas, which makes all this vague ambiguity that much harder for me to accept. Like moving from bedrock to marshlands.
Last year it came to a head-- no time during the winter break when we’d have both kids, leaving us with no family Christmas at all. Thanksgiving was the only weekend we’d for sure have both kids. But we already had plans to hit Fresno over Thanksgiving; how could we get back in time for Christmas the same weekend?
Then I came up with Surprise Christmas. I painted a Christmas tree on kraft paper and made paper ornaments, then hid them in a mailing tube under the camping gear along with wrapping paper and stockings.
We stopped at a hotel on the way back from California. I donned a jingly reindeer headband, Dan his Santa hat, and we unfurled the tree and hung it on the hotel room wall. We did all the shopping early and brought the presents along; the kids did their gift wrapping in the hotel room, surrounded by Elvis’s Blue Christmas and twinkling lights. They hung up the paper ornaments and sang carols. Santa even came in the night and crammed stockings full.
I’ve never seen either kid so excited.
On the surface, we got our Christmas. I guess. I mean, it had all the important elements of a ‘real’ Christmas-- family togetherness, lights, carols, presents. But despite the kids’ (and Dan’s) obvious delight, I felt depressed by the farce. It was a poor second to celebrating Christmas together for real. I mean-- a paper Christmas tree, for pete’s sake? Come on.
In the year since then, my perspective changed entirely; turns out it’s the most successful family Christmas we’ve had yet. The kids have asked-- multiple times-- if we’re having the paper tree again, and kept asking when would Christmas happen, starting around October. They were grumbly to hear Christmas was going to be a planned event this year instead of sprung on them unsuspecting. There’s been nothing but “Remember when” about last year’s Christmas; none of our other Christmases have been reminisced over even once.
Some traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Some develop slowly, build up over time. And some spring forth fully-formed, armed and ready for battle-- like Athena from the head of Zeus.
So, even though our celebration this year is marred by Dan’s radiation treatment, even though we’ll have to stay an arm’s length away from him while hanging our ornaments and opening presents, I can’t wait for our day. I plan on doing more than just celebrating-- I plan to revel.
I really, really love Christmas. There are a zillion movies about Christmas spirit and I cry at all of them. But nothing taught me the lesson so hard as last year-- that Christmas is where you find it. That Christmas traditions are accessories, not the foundation. That sometimes you have to make your own Christmas, even if it’s only out of paper. And sometimes, those are the most sacred of all.