Today, for example. It's Christmas Eve today. As kids, we would have arrived at my grandparents' on the dot of 4pm, ready for julebukking (contrary to the linked definition, that just meant traveling among relatives house and devouring all available food like a swarm of locusts), present opening, eating of endless cheeses, Christmas punch, sometimes eggnog, always meatballs. Sometimes dinner I guess, but that's less clear. And carols, holding hands, singing around the tree.
|Just like in Whoville!|
Yet on this Christmas Eve, I am doing none of those things. Instead, I'm watching 5th Element and eating Qdoba nachos.
My kid, my husband, my stepdaughter, and my parents are all hundreds of miles away, and all in different directions. My sister is up the road, but her family celebrates Hanukkah now. When I left her house earlier this afternoon we sort of looked at each other awkwardly and said "Uh, Merry Christmas?" because we don't know what to make of this day, so naked for both of us without its usual holiday glitter. For her, because she has married into new faith. For me, because I have married into a blended family, and our Christmas isn't for another week.
Holidays are one of the roughest parts of blended families, letting go of the traditions you had as a child, plus those you envisioned for your own family as an adult. I've written about this before, our crazy paper Christmas tree that simultaneously symbolizes everything I love and everything that is heartbreaking about living in a blended family.
Only, that post was a lie.
In reality, the kids cheerfully taped paper ornaments to that stupid paper tree while Kermit the Frog sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and then I started crying and had to leave the room. Dan followed to talk me off the ledge, in the incredible way only he can do. And I cried that the paper tree was bullshit, that celebrating Christmas on December 30 is bullshit too, that this is the stupidest holiday ever because it's made up on a random day. And that we will never have a "real" Christmas, just like we will never be a "real" family.
Dan pointed out-- look, the kids are happy. They think it's Christmas, so it's Christmas. Who cares what the date is? And we are a real family, dammit. So what if we have zero examples of families like ours to look to? So what? We're our own thing. We're trailblazers.
And he was right.
I realized in that moment it was only my stubborn perception of how the holiday "should" be that was interfering with feeling celebratory. And, PS, no one gave a crap about the real-ness of the holiday except me. I pulled it together, returned to the idiot paper tree, tried to appreciate that we had created-- for the first time in our lovable disaster of a family, actually-- something new, something from scratch. A tradition that is 100 percent ours.
Then I went on to write my blog post about how the calendar day doesn't matter. And somehow, in the intervening couple years since then, it's even become true.
Look, Christmas-on-the-day is a farce anyway. Most scholars agree that historical Jesus wasn't born anywhere near December 25. Mistletoe and the Yule log come straight from my ancestors, the pagan Norsemen. And the whole gift exchange thing has its roots in the Saturnalia.
Regardless of the various appropriated traditions, Christmas is when we gather to celebrate.
Except that's backwards.
When we gather to celebrate, THAT is our Christmas.
In Alice in Wonderland, every day that isn't your birthday is your unbirthday. A day to celebrate! And our Christmas is an unChristmas, our celebratory day anywhere between December 29th and New Year's. It doesn't matter when the day is; "Christmas" is whenever we get around to celebrating it.
Instead of feeling like we're being cheated out of the holiday, our oddball paper Christmas now feels super fun and sacred somehow. Like those days you wake up really early and you just know the entire world is asleep except you, and in that grey light anything is possible.
Our Christmas is like that-- we're the only ones celebrating; it's a day that's all ours. Anything is possible.
Just like the Whos down in Whoville, we celebrate our Christmas without a (real) tree, without my childhood trappings of untangling light strings with my dad and my red and green plaid taffeta dress.
Instead, our Christmas has a paper tree with glitter-glue ornaments cut from brown Trader Joe's shopping bags. The inaugural song every year is Elvis crooning Blue Christmas; we listen to the whole album, before moving on to the Muppet Christmas album. Then Dan & I leave to buy stocking stuffers from the Michael's dollar aisle while the kids watch holiday movies (Elf, then Scrooged, usually in that order) and they wrap presents.
Crossover traditions from childhood? None.
Yet the feel of Christmas in the air, the family celebration and joy and presents and togetherness and loving one another? We've got that covered.
Even when it falls on December 30th.