Like most families, our family dynamic has changed and that has effected how we have celebrated holidays in general, but most significantly how we celebrate Christmas.
My dad and Brooke (egg donor) separated when I was just 4 or 5 years old. Once they were officially separated, she stopped coming around for her designated supervised visitation before the custody agreement was even finalized by the court… So it was no surprise when she failed to show up for her requested visitation or never requested any visitation at all. I do not remember a single Christmas spent with Brooke.
As a small child, I knew Christmas was coming when Grandma and I went shopping for my very important Christmas dress. This dress was not allowed to be worn until Christmas Eve with the exception of the family pictures that we had taken of just my brothers and me every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was always very excited to wear this beautiful dress that made me feel like a beautiful princess. I also wore this dress to Christmas Eve service every year which we attended at a beautiful Lutheran church in Champaign, IL.
Around noon on Christmas Eve, Dad, Grandma, my brothers, and I would load into the car in our Sunday best and drive to Champaign, IL where we would celebrate Christmas with my dad’s side of the family. This celebration involved attending Christmas Eve service at our family’s Lutheran Church in the late afternoon/early evening. Christmas Eve Service was followed by dinner at my great aunt and uncles house. Which, of course, was followed by not only dessert, but the opening of Christmas presents.
After spending the evening in Champaign, IL we would drive to Decatur, IL and spend the night at my aunt’s house where we would wake up and spend Christmas Day with my aunts and her family, my dad’s brother and his family, and my grandma. They had a spacious, beautiful house in the woods with lots of space indoors and out for us little ones to run around rambunctiously and play with our new toys.
But when I was around the age of 6 or 7, my aunt and her family moved to southern Florida, which effected the way that we spent our holidays. Instead of spending the night at my aunt’s house we now drove the two hours home and my grandma spent the night with us so that she could get up so early that it wasn’t even bright outside and fly to Florida to spend Christmas Day with my aunt and her family.
After my dad and (step) mom met when I was roughly 8 years old, our Christmas celebrations changed significantly. For 2-3 years, we continued to celebrate Christmas as we always had, but after my dad asked Sallie to marry him our Christmas celebrations began to look a little different. We began celebrating what we affectionately call “Thanksmas”, a combination of both Thanksgiving and Christmas with my dad’s side of the family. But this meant that we were not in Champaign on Christmas Eve to attend our normal Lutheran church…
Instead we began attending the Christmas Eve Mass held at the Catholic church that my mom had attended growing up. This meant that we only had to drive 45 minutes to get to church instead of 2 hours. After Christmas Eve Mass, on our way home we drove through some of the local neighborhoods and admired the decorations and lights. Once we arrived home it was straight to bed for us kids because our parents still had lots of gift assembly and wrapping to do.
As I would guess is customary in most homes, as children we were awake just a few hours after our parents had crawled into bed after having finished assembling and wrapping gifts. Too excited to sleep. We never actually went into our parents room and woke them up, but their bedroom was just off of the living room and we made no attempt to be respectful by talking quietly or make as little noise as possible.
Once we had successfully trashed our living room and opened all of our gifts, my mom made monkey bread for breakfast. While the monkey bread baked, she made whatever dishes (veggie tray, dessert, etc.) her mom had asked her to be responsible for bring to Christmas Day dinner and we would enjoy our new gifts.
Christmas dinner was held at Mom’s parents house and was served promptly at 1. After dinner all of the ladies helped with cleaning up from dinner while the men went out to the garage to admire Grandpa’s latest projects. As a carpenter and handyman he always had beautiful wood pieces he was refinishing or creating that he enjoyed sharing and just about everyone loved to see. We still have several of his beautiful pieces scattered throughout our home.
After all of the left overs had been divvied up and put away and all of the dishes had hand washed and dried, everyone squeezed into the living room so that gifts could be handed out and opened. Shortly after all of the gifts were opened, the extended family said their goodbyes and disperse to continue with their various traditions. My family of 6 stayed behind at Grandma and Grandpas and enjoyed our presents while my parents generally fell asleep on the couch talking to our grandparents and watching Christmas movies. A few hours later we would have left overs for dinner before we headed home.
After my (step) mom passed away, our holiday celebrations changed drastically…
Mom was very creative and thoughtful. Around the holidays she was frequently making beautiful craft decorations not only for our home but also as gifts for friends and family as well. She was also the one who decorated for the holidays. This meant that as the holidays came around after she passed away, the responsibility of decorating now fell on my shoulders… and seeing her hand made decorations was heartbreak. So for the first couple of years, the decorations remained safely tucked into their respective storage containers.
After Mom passed away, it became apparent that it would be too painful to celebrate Christmas and New Years here by ourselves. While we wouldn’t necessarily have to celebrate completely on our own because we could have still celebrated the holidays with Mom’s family… we ultimately decided to travel to Florida to be with my dad’s mom and sister and her family. After we ultimately decided that we would be celebrating both Christmas and New Years in Florida, it didn’t make sense to drag out all of our Christmas decorations when we wouldn’t be here to enjoy them.
This year, though Mom’s decorations remain in their storage containers, we did decorate our home with some new decorations to help it feel a little bit more like Christmas.
We continue to travel to Florida to be with my Grandma and my aunt and her family for the holidays. We arrive a few days before Christmas and my grandma waits for us to arrive to decorate the Christmas tree. This means more to me than she could ever possibly know. We also help her decorate the outside of her house as well.
On Christmas Eve my extended family (dad’s sister and her family, dad’s brother’s ex wife and her kids and their families) all get for dinner before heading to church for a traditional Christmas Eve service. After Christmas Eve service my extended family will go their separate ways and my grandma, dad, brothers and I drive through local neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights and decorations.
On Christmas Day morning, my dad’s brother’s ex wife (my aunt) gets up early and makes breakfast for our entire family and then delivers it to each individual house as if she is Santa herself… if Santa delivered breakfast instead of toys. We love love love her sausage bread, her maple pecan treats, and her breakfast casserole. YUUUM. While breakfast is in the oven, my grandma is baking pies and cooking whatever she has been assigned to bring for Christmas dinner while the rest of us relax and nap. Around dinner time we all head over to my dad’s sister’s house where we will have Christmas dinner and socialize for a couple of hours before returning to our respective homes.
Though our Christmas traditions, where, and the way we celebrate has changed dramatically over the years, the one thing that has remained constant from year to year is our the time spent celebrating with family and I hope that never changes.