I did a lot of reflecting this past holiday season, on how things have changed so much in just the last few years.
I think the first major change is the complete and utter strangeness that comes with no longer being the kid on Christmas, but being the mom instead. I no longer spring out of bed early in the morning, tip toeing to the living room to see the mountains of gifts that await me, some from “Santa,” and some signed “Love, Mom and Dad.” In fact, as a mom now, I sleep in as late as I can. The building sense of excitement that once tied my stomach in knots on Christmas Eve is no longer present. Instead, I feel tired. As an adult, will I ever feel that anticipation again? There was nothing quite like that Christmas Eve feeling, and now perhaps it’s gone forever.
Along with my adulthood comes changing traditions. My large extended family is hard to get all together. Very rarely are we all in the same room at the same time, but Christmas time was the exception. Everyone was home for the holidays, and I knew without fail, that even if I didn’t see my aunts, or uncles, or cousins for the rest of the year, that I would get to see them on Christmas Eve. It was the one day of the year we could all be together (minus my Florida grandparents who don’t travel in snow). Times they are a changing though, and not everyone makes it home for the holidays anymore. In fact, a month before Christmas Eve, when no one had yet made a peep yet about family plans, I sprang into action with group texts and plans for a gift exchange. I even offered up our house for the celebration (luckily, my aunt took over the hosting part – phew). I don’t know what scared me so much about the possibility of not having our annual Christmas Eve celebration together, but it did. The idea of that really upset me. I’m not a social person by nature, but it’s family. Christmas doesn’t feel right if it’s not spent together.
Christmas Eve was different this year… much different than years past. It was fun and festive, but not the Christmas Eves of my childhood. A cousin was very noticeably missing. It wasn’t at my parent’s house, as it always had been growing up. We no longer tracked Santa, because us first generation of cousins are far too old, and the new generation of Caleb and his crew are still too young. The magic and anxiety of waiting for Santa was nowhere to be found. Instead of putting on a Christmas “pageant” in my dad’s studio, complete with costumes, a script, and practices held for weeks in advance… my cousins and I reminisced about it instead (and trust me – I wouldn’t do it again, even if you paid me).
Things were clearly different, but different doesn’t mean bad.
In a quest to “make Christmas Eve great again,” I arranged a gift card exchange for the adults, so we wouldn’t leave empty handed. And even though I am not one of those crazy Christmas die-hards (y’all know I love my Halloween), I put together some fun games to bring (the Saran Wrap ball game and Hershey Kisses unwrapping with oven mitts), complete with prizes for the winners. Instead of anticipating Santa and presents, I anticipated the winners and the fun we might have while playing.
Caleb and his cousins are the new “kids of Christmas” now. Though 2 of the 3 of them didn’t quite grasp what Christmas was yet, they still had fun. They received new gifts and ran around having a ball. When Caleb got tired, he sneakily retreated to my cousin’s room and decided to have a quick lie down on her bed with his new massive pillow pet.
I don’t know what next Christmas will bring yet. I hope it brings us all together again. I hope the kids will be old enough to generate that Santa excitement that once buzzed through our family parties. I hope that maybe, just maybe, in a few years time, the new cousins will put on Christmas plays and make us track Santa on the phone. I hope that I’ll stumble out of bed at 5 in the morning once again, because my child simply can’t contain his excitement, much like I used to do. Maybe things will be different next Christmas. Maybe the kids won’t ever put on a single play. Maybe we’ll never celebrate Christmas Eve at my parent’s house again, sitting beside the artificial tree with its fake snow and presents that we peeked at, hoping to see our names. Maybe we won’t have mini hot dogs in barbecue sauce. Maybe my cousin won’t make it home for Christmas again. Maybe things will be more different than I ever expected. But maybe it’s okay. Maybe traditions have to change to make way for new ones.
Whatever happens next Christmas, I will embrace it with open arms. It’s time to pass the torch of Christmas excitement from my cousins and me to the “new” cousins, and let them make Christmas whatever they want it to be. Maybe we have to let go of the old traditions, but maybe the new ones will be even better than the last.