Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. This year, however, the holiday felt strange. Gone are the giddy, excitement filled days finding just the right present for our kids. Gone are the days of my baking six or seven different kinds of Christmas cookies because these days Bruce and I are the only ones who eat them and Lord knows we don’t need any more cookies. Gone are the days of being woken before dawn on Christmas morning by Erik and Travis, their faces only inches from mine, saying, “Mom, get up. It’s Christmas.” I miss needing coffee to wake up enough to open presents, and I treasure those memories, but our family has changed and grown up.
For years now, out of necessity, we have made our own traditions rather than going to our respective parents’ houses for the holidays. When we first married, Bruce was an active duty Marine. We seldom could go home to either parents’ houses because we lived far away and never had enough money, so we learned to replicate the most important traditions from both sides of our families and shared them with each other. Each year we prepared a Scandinavian dinner complete with lingonberries and Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve as Bruce’s family had always done, but Santa always came to our house on Christmas Eve night after the kids were asleep, just as he did when I was growing up. Over the years one tradition remained a constant: cutting our own Christmas tree. This year, however, for the first time since Bruce left active duty, he was not with me to cut a tree. Neither was my youngest son Travis.
Erik, my oldest son, and I went to the tree farm where he cut our tree, a beautiful Frazier fir, ten feet tall. He cut and hauled it to the wagon with a little help from me. (I don’t like aging. I can’t do nearly what I once could.) A week passed before we brought it indoors. Another four or five days went by before we decorated. I’d like to say we waited because we wanted Travis to help when he got home from school, but that wasn’t it. I would like to think we just didn’t have the time, but that wasn’t it either. I just couldn’t muster the usual excitement I have had on previous Christmases. I haven’t even sent out Christmas cards this year!
Where is my enthusiasm? I used to get upset with my mother and Bruce’s mother when they wouldn’t put up a tree because it was too much trouble. I couldn’t understand how it could be “trouble” but I think I do now. When children grow up, the magic of the season becomes diluted. Heck, Bruce and I even contemplated one of those pre-lit artificial trees this year, a passing moment of weakness which I’m sure won’t happen again, not for a few years at least.
A couple of days ago Cindy, one of my college friends, updated her Facebook status that she was un-decorating her tree alone and separating the ornaments by child so she could give them to her girls while she was still breathing. I didn’t react with horror or sadness as I might have not so long ago. Instead, I thought what a good idea. She wants to take a tropical vacation next Christmas rather than decorate alone again. Although I won’t be able to fly away next year, my imagination will go with Cindy as she jets off to ports unknown. What I realized reading her post is I’m not alone in my funk about the holidays. I know at least one other person feels as I do.
Maybe the magic of Christmas is still present. Maybe I need new traditions to bring back the anticipation of the past and liberate me from the indifference I feel. Maybe I need to begin new traditions Bruce and I can share as a couple again. Maybe, like Cindy, I can separate the ornaments belonging to each of my boys and put them away for when they marry or have a home of their own. Erik and Travis are beginning new lives, separating from me and their dad… as they should. I can’t count on them to be here to decorate the tree with me or hang their own special ornaments up anymore, and I no longer want to expect them to. I want to recapture the feeling I once had about this time of year.
Maybe part of that process is embracing the change in our family. Our tree still sports every ornament our kids made and all the ones we collected from the places we’ve traveled and lived over the years, including a starfish snowman and a dried okra pod Santa. Perhaps I can finally have a “grown-up” tree like my friend Mary whose tree sparkles with glittering glass ornaments she has collected over the years. Glass might not be the way to go in our house since Bruce usually breaks breakable things, but maybe I can decorate our next tree the way I did when I was poor and single, using only white lights and bunches of baby’s breath and purple heather stuck in the branches here and there. Maybe, like Cindy, Bruce and I will wing our way to a tropical location to enjoy the sun on our skin and the trade winds in our faces rather than tromping through the cold and the snow.
Maybe all I need is a new perspective on the holidays. Our children are adults now, with girlfriends and obligations of their own. I can feel left out or I can feel grateful to have adult children who have forged lives of their own. I choose to look at these changes in our lives as a beginning of new and exciting traditions I don’t even know about yet, which will breathe new life into our old memories. Maybe for Bruce and me that means a pre-lit tree in our future or a tropical vacation, or maybe it only means joining our kids at their houses rather than ours one day. What I will never forget is the excitement I remember in my children’s voices and their faces long after they have children of their own. That is the magic of Christmas, and that is what has always made Christmas my favorite time of year.