All of us have our own vision of the ideal holiday. But this time of year can be difficult for those living far away from extended family. Growing up, almost all of my family lived in the same town and my childhood holidays were a kind of crowded, happy chaos with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Now that we live across the country from our relatives, due to my husband's job, it's just us. The first few years we were married, we dutifully traveled home for Christmas, alternating years between his family and mine. Then we had our first child. Soon after she was born, we realized that between inflated airline ticket prices, snow delays and crowded airports, it would be best to travel at other times of the year and spend the holidays at home. Our home.
That first year, I missed my family terribly and didn't quite know what to do. So I tried to recreate the Christmas I had growing up. I duplicated everything, down to cooking the whole turkey dinner … for the two of us and a toddler. Without a gaggle of relatives to help, it ended up being me in the kitchen all day while my husband worked to keep our daughter occupied and out from under my feet. By the time we sat down to eat, everyone was cranky and exhausted. We then finished up Christmas Day by washing an enormous pile of dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Not the holiday I had envisioned.
After a couple of years, I decided that this would have to change. I wanted these few days to be about time spent together as a family, not about Mommy spending the day in the kitchen. It hit me that although it was impossible to recreate my childhood experience, we could make our own memories. No longer tied down to dinner at a certain time at Grandma's, we could tailor the celebration to fit us, and it could be anything we wanted. Anything. This realization was very freeing. We could go out or stay in. Cook or not cook. Open our presents whenever we felt like it.
Since then, we have forged our own way, and it isn't always traditional. For example, one year when the kids were very small, we ate KFC for Christmas Eve (it's poultry, right?) and after Santa came on Christmas morning, we had breakfast at a pancake house, then went to a movie. Little kids couldn't care less about a traditional turkey dinner, and ours were blissfully happy with fast food. In recent years, I've ordered a ready made holiday dinner with all the trimmings from a local grocery store, adding a homemade touch like a pie or other special dessert.
We've made our own family traditions, building on them over the years as the children have grown. Some are carried over from our own childhoods, such as my family's practice of opening just one gift on Christmas Eve or making a Filipino Star Lantern from my husband's culture. We have certain things we always do throughout the holiday season, such as creating our own advent wreath and riding the Holiday Carousel at Westlake Center. The kids love baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, something I probably wouldn't have attempted back when I faced a long day of food preparation. Sometimes we spend part of the holiday with friends or just relax at home, eating popcorn and watching Christmas movies or playing board games. We've even spent the whole day in our pajamas! How we choose to spend our holiday varies from year to year. And it will continue to change; as our children get older we look forward to possibly spending the holidays skiing or sledding. I might even cook again when it can be a family project, but not until then. It's continually evolving, and it's ours.
We still miss our relatives during this time of year, and we try to bridge the distance between us with Christmas Day phone calls or webcam conversations. Holiday memories can still be shared, even long distance. It's not the same, but it helps. Although spending the holidays away from our families isn't ideal, we have found that creating our own kind of Christmas can be wonderful too.