Day 22: Holiday Traditions
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I set up my Charlie Brown tree. There are a few presents under it and holiday cards from friends on display. There’s snow everywhere in Chicago. But it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. And, honestly, it hasn’t really felt like Christmas for the last few years.
My grandparents were a major component of the celebration and going to see them was the headlining event. But with them no longer around and both my mom and I moving away from St. Louis, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore. I’ve been feeling like, what’s the point?
For as long as I could remember, there were many traditions within my mom’s and dad’s families that all blurred together on these two days. On Christmas Eve, I would get dressed up, my mom would put an oversized bow in my hair, and we would go to my grandparent’s (mom’s side). My cousin Travis and I would play, running to the tree to point out all of our gifts and trying to guess what was inside while the adults were distracted in the kitchen. And we’d run back to snack on my granddad’s cheeseball recipe as though we were doing nothing of the sort. Finally, after dinner and what seemed like an eternity, we all gathered in the living room to open presents.
After that, we would head to my dad’s family’s party at my aunt and uncle’s house. I’m the oldest of all the kids in my family, so I sort of lead the charge for a lot of these traditions. Or the narcissistic only child in me would like to believe I did. One of the most exciting parts of this party was that Santa Claus would visit. My uncle, who was a chiropractor, would have one of his patients dress up like Santa and come to the party to meet all the kids. As a small child, you better believe this was the most exciting thing EVER. We each took a turn on his lap and got a small pre-Christmas present from him.
A few years ago, I happened to be in town for the annual party and my cousin Nikki, my dad, and I actually helped the guy get into his Santa gear and walked him over to greet the next generation of kids. (Well, not next generation since neither I or my cousins have had a kid yet, but… there are always kids at the party now.)
My mom recalls going to these parties when I was very little and drinking too much, then still having to set up Christmas at home for me when we were getting back around 1 in the morning. Thanks for your perseverance, mom! I can’t imagine having to handle all that in my early 20s. Yeesh.
When I was really little, I think they had to wake me up to come down for Christmas, but I grew more eager for Christmas morning as I got older and likely greedier, ha. But the gifts always seemed overflowing under the tree and I never felt without, even though my parents were very young and not super financially able to do that for me. After we opened presents and had breakfast, I believe we would go back to either one of my grandparents’ homes for more family celebrations. I’m sure there was some church services in there somewhere, as well.
Things changed when I was six or seven and my parents got divorced. But they only changed slightly. I just went to each of those celebrations with one parent or the other. And for Christmas morning, if I’m remembering correctly, I would see both of them as well. Or I would spend Christmas Eve with one parent, and Christmas with the other. It all worked out and made sense in my weird, little, complicated world. And to me, it was like I had double Christmas and double the presents.
So, even though my traditions were never all that traditional, they were mine. And without grandparent destinations to bring us all together now, many of them have fallen by the wayside. When I went away to college in Iowa City, my mom also moved there and we made an effort to go back to St. Louis to keep those family get-togethers going. But my granddad passed away almost three years ago now, and my grandma followed a few months later. And since then, I haven’t felt too thrilled about traveling to St. Louis for the holidays when there’s no grandparents’ house as the center of the gathering action and no grandparents to spend time with. Of course, I have many other family members to see and visit, but grandparents are kind of the epicenter of family gatherings. It’s hard to come together when such a monumental piece of that is missing – and to pretend it’s not and that everything is fine and normal.
The last couple years, it’s felt more like an obligation than a celebration. That is both in part to personal financial difficulties and having to choose between my mom or dad to visit. Last year, I video chatted with my mom and visited my dad. This year, I will video chat my mom again and my dad is coming to visit me. Next year, I’ll likely visit my mom. This will be the weirdest Christmas yet, but maybe the most stress-free since I don’t have to travel and get to stay with my cat. Maybe I will gradually create my own new traditions that will bring a little more cheer back into the holiday season for me.