Christmas and I have a complicated relationship.
When you have divorced parents, who have both remarried, who live an hour’s drive apart, and one parent’s birthday is Christmas Eve and one step-parent’s birthday is New Year’s Eve, the holiday season usually resembles the “if this is Tuesday, it must be Spain” bus tours of Europe beloved by those in their early twenties. I could drive the highway between my parents’ houses blindfolded. I have driven it basically blind, because even though everyone always says the driving is weather-dependent, I cannot think of a single year where we didn’t make the transfer from one house to the other at the appointed time. And we did end up in the ditch one year as a result (my step-mother was never allowed to come and get us again).
There are a lot of family politics that revolve around Christmas, as one might expect with divorced parents. One step-parent (the spouse of the non-custodial parent) liked to keep track of how many nights my sisters and I spend at each house, even though at one house we could get out to see our friends from high school, and at the other house it was basically quality visiting time 24/7. My sisters and I STILL keep track of whose house we are ‘supposed’ to be at for Christmas Day. The first year Q. came for Christmas he met basically my entire extended family and was also subjected to a road trip post-Christmas through southern Ontario to see more of the clan.
I went through a phase in high school and university where I didn’t like Christmas. I disliked the crass commercialism and the ‘buy buy buy’ message blaring from every television. I hated trying to carve up my free time away from my studies into roughly equal portions of parental visits. It too often ended up stressful rather than relaxing.
That said, I have some wonderful memories of Christmases past. Making the annual batch of sugar cookies with my sisters and carefully decorating each one with coloured icing and sprinkles. Going to the carol service at my grandparents’ church on Christmas Eve and leaving to find that the snow had finally arrived. Walking the neighbourhood near my father’s house each year to see the outrageous light displays. Building a snowman the moment that perfect sticky snow fell. Cross-country skiing and skating and sliding. So much laughter with my mum’s family that your sides would ache even before you started eating. Waking up on Christmas morning and feeling that lumpy weight at the end of the bed which meant that Santa had come in the night. Coming home as adults, and racing my sisters to be the first one to try on our new Christmas Eve pyjamas over our clothes the moment we got in the door (my poor mother tried to suggest at one point when I was well into my twenties and all three of us were launched that perhaps we no longer needed the annual tradition of new pyjamas. The motion was scoffed at.). Endless rounds of Yahtzee. Decorating the tree to the sound of Boney M.
Even though the family politics of Christmas drive me crazy, the memories that matter to me from the holiday season always involve my family. Christmas, for us, is about family and food, love and laughter, singing and snowballs. Before my parents split up, and during the years when my parents lived too far apart for us to transition from one house to the other, Christmas never felt hectic or rushed.
And so, when last Christmas came around, and I was halfway through the pregnancy with E., Q. and I made an agreement. No more would we travel to see my family in the days leading up to Christmas. We were done with the manic holiday shuffle and the continuing drama of whose ‘turn’ it was to have the girls home for the big day. We were staying home and starting new traditions with our new little family. (Since Q’s family lives overseas, the new rules don’t apply to them.) We’re still travelling to see my family, obviously, but now we plan to leave on Boxing Day and make a more leisurely tour of the two households and the various other aunts and uncles and grandparents who will be in town. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are ours. The only downside to this is it’s made life for my sisters much more complicated as they not only have to navigate the usual holiday divisions but they also want to see us (especially E.), so they’re doing even more traipsing about. I feel guilty about this, but ultimately they will have their own families too, and someone, somewhere, had to break with what we’ve always done. And yes, this does mean that Christmas for us will stretch over the entire week and there will be presents to unwrap and turkey to eat multiple times in multiple houses, but that now feels so familiar to me that adding one more round of celebrating doesn’t seem remotely unusual. I can’t think of the last time I only opened presents on Christmas Day. Certainly I would have been younger than ten.
Q. and I have talked a lot about the type of Christmas we want for E. Our little tree is up, and all my ornaments from my childhood (most made by my grandmother) are hanging from it. Q. has found a carol service and a family mass for Christmas Eve- it’s important to him, and I’m willing to take my secular self into a church for that one night. We think in future years, once the dairy restrictions are lifted we might start a tradition of home-made pizza on Christmas Eve. E. has new pjs to wear tomorrow night (and Q. and I have bought them for each other as well). Our stockings are hanging with care (admittedly from our curtain rod). Q. is beside himself with excitement at the thought of creating a Christmas lunch that has food that actually coordinates (secretly I’m hoping there will still be leftovers when we hit my father’s house on Boxing Day, as I don’t think I could handle the holidays without any turkey or mashed potato). When E. is older we hope to go skating or sliding after Christmas lunch, and then walk the neighbourhood to see the lights once the dark sets in.
But most of all, I want E’s Christmases to be filled with love and laughter and joy and excitement. This year we’ll make a start at building the memories that I hope he will cherish for the rest of his life.
Christmas 2009 was the worst one of my life. I have never felt so sad, so angry, so bereft, so utterly without direction. I was manic from the medications required for the failed FET. Now, finally, we have our E., and he has healed my heart.
I feel like Christmas is awash with possibilities again, that I get the chance to start over and embrace the holiday without cynicism.
To all my blog readers, I wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas with just the right amount of snow. May your days be filled with love, and your heart filled with family.