There’s no place like home for the holidays…
Many people interpret home differently when they become adults. For me, home is wherever my family is.
However, the definitions for both home and family have changed over the years. With each stage of life, they take on new meaning and I’ve shifted into different roles.
When I was single, family meant my parents and my brother. I played the supportive role and helped my mom with Christmas dinner and cookies.
When I was engaged-then married, my family became my partner, my immediate family, and his immediate family by extension. We brought the expensive gifts as we had two incomes, no kids, and plenty of discretionary funds to keep the economy booming.
When we had kids, family became the family we created. The ones I nurtured from a cluster of cells into crying babies into adorable toddlers. They became my home, too.
My role shifted from the supportive minor league player in the background to the pitcher on the mound. It was now our tree with presents beneath, our dinner to cook, and our Christmas cookies to bake.
As a result, the home in the Christmas songs now refer to our home, not our parents’ homes. It’s a weird feeling when that happens. Like when someone passes you the baton and you’re left standing still on your feet. I wasn’t yet ready.
There’s no place like (our) home for the holidays.
The Kids Don’t Travel for Christmas Rule
We don’t ever travel for Christmas. We’ll travel before and after, but not during that crucial +/- 2 days around Christmas.
The “kids don’t travel for Christmas” rule was established when I was growing up. It all stemmed from their experiences as kids and their desire to do something different.
A Christmas Frenzy
My dad regaled us with stories from his childhood—as kids, he and his siblings would all race to open their presents and would tear through the wrapping paper in a matter of minutes. Christmas morning was a race. Wrapping paper shredded on the floor. Leftovers from a fray.
They’d play for a few hours and then pack up into the station wagon and head off to visit with extended family. That was the part that really wound him up. As a child, he had to leave the toys he had just opened to do the boring “visiting” part. The family obligation.
Once he became a parent and it was his turn to make the Christmas traditions he never wanted us to have to leave the house on Christmas. Christmas Eve, sure, that’s when we did the family visiting, present exchange, and a bit too much eggnog drinking by the adults, but never on Christmas day.
He also slowed the pace for our Christmas mornings starting with our stockings, pausing for breakfast, and then resuming opening the presents one at a time.
Basically, the opposite of what he experienced as a kid.
For me, Christmas day was all about wearing pajamas all day long and playing with our toys. We lounged, read books, and if anyone wanted to visit us they were more than welcome to arrive in the afternoon.
The Balance of Expectations
When I first met my husband, the family travel rounds were made easier by the random chance that our parents lived in rather close proximity to one another. Different states but a reasonable drive and we could easily split the holidays and celebrate with one family before and after Christmas.
But, as soon as my son was born, I slammed on the brakes on the Christmas travel. That was all well and good when we were childless adults but with a baby? No way. No travel with kids on Christmas. Period.
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit strict? He’s a baby. He won’t even have presents to play with during his first Christmas.”
“It’s not just the presents, it’s the airport chaos, the unpredictable weather delays, the SNOW. It’s everything. Nobody wants to travel during the holidays. It’s miserable. Besides, now we have a very handy excuse to ask people to come to our house.”
As it turned out, my Christmas travel ban was premature.
We bought plane tickets and wrangled our baby with all of the other Christmas travelers that year.
Our sudden life changes meant that we were moving to Sweden a month later. Not traveling to visit with our family during our last stateside Christmas would be cruel. We had to go.
What was supposed to be a joyous Christmas visit turned out to be not as-joyous so long/ farewell tour.
The atmosphere was…tense at times and sad at others.
My husband took video of our son opening presents and in the background of the video you can hear my voice off-camera. Shrill. A register higher than usual. I cringe watching those videos now.
I can tell how stressed I was during that time. My stress was very thinly veiled. I was grateful that nobody lashed out at me under their own stress.
Here was my child’s first Christmas and I was smashing everyone’s expectations for how this family thing was going to play out.
We had introduced a whole new wrinkle—international travel—and I had no idea how it was going to work. My smile is tight during the pictures of that last US Christmas. I had no idea if this was our last or just our last for now.
Would it ever be like this again? Was I making a huge mistake?
I had no idea.
Instead of making a rather reasonable demand of having people fly only two hours to see us in Atlanta, GA, now our family would have to fly 9-13 hours (depending on direct or connecting flights), to see us at a considerable greater cost and effort.
My “kids don’t travel for Christmas” rule now came at a great cost and burden. Was it fair?
Should we compromise and meet our family at a neutral midway point? Maybe we could do Christmas in Spain? That would be fun?
“Mom, Dad, what about celebrating Christmas under the Northern Lights in Iceland this year?”
“No. Your kids shouldn’t travel during Christmas. We’ll come to you or we’ll see you next year.”
My dad was still strict on his own rule but this time he was imposing it on us.
I was still experimenting with family arrangements that wouldn’t put the burden all on one side or the other. I didn’t want to be unfair and it felt terribly one-sided because it was.
For years, our parents traveled to Sweden to spend Christmas with us and we appreciated the tremendous effort and cost they endured to make each year extra special.
A Pajama Day Christmas
Last year, we celebrated our first Christmas alone as a family.
I really loved it. We had the full-on pajama, play with toys, read books, no shower day, and it was wonderful.
You see, we are never really alone as one might imagine.
We’ve cultivated friendships and near-familyships over the past seven years that mimic a supportive family network. As adults and parents, we’ve created our own traditions that blend the local culture with our American family traditions.
We drink the glögg and eat pepparkakor in the Christmas markets, we walk to the Christmas concert held in our local 13th-century church in our backyard. We celebrate Swedish Christmas on the 24th and our American Christmas on the 25th. It’s perfect, actually.
We are so fortunate that the holidays have never felt anything close to loneliness. I know the holidays can be bittersweet and that it’s not always the warm and jolly feeling for everyone.
We are so fortunate to have family willing to drag presents halfway across the globe to spend time with us during the worst travel season and I’m so grateful they do it despite all of that stress.
We are lucky to have family who makes that effort and we are lucky to have successfully transplanted our lives into new soil.
Family and Home
This Christmas, my parents are making the long trek through customs and across time zones and I’m eternally grateful.
Although, as long as my dad has a “no kids travel on Christmas rule” I suppose it’s only fair that they come to us, right?
Family can be…complicated…and decisions to move family away from other family can be difficult.
To boot, home may be defined differently now than it was in the past. Maybe you’re trying out a new role and it feels uncomfortable. There may be a lot going on in your life right now. As someone who was standing on the edge of that precipice years ago, not knowing how everything would pan out, my advice is to trust yourself.
Trust that you’ve built a loving family and that you will build another loving network wherever you land. It will be different but it will be wonderful in time.
Regardless of whether you’re near or far this holiday season, cheers to you and yours.
Have a no shower full-on pajama day, read a book, and drink some hot chocolate.