Raising Richmond: We’ll be home for Christmas

Changing families means changing traditions. Find out why one parent decided to put her proverbial foot down on holiday demands from the fam.

Here is a joke that the kids used to taunt me with on the school yard…

“Your family is so big, you have to rent out a club house in your grandparents’ neighborhood to fit everyone for Thanksgiving dinner.”

I had no snappy comebacks, as that is the truth. And also a terrible taunt.

My grandparents had 13 kids, and those kids had a whole mess of kids, and now those kids are having kids. And those kids have lots of great aunts’ and uncles’ names to remember. When I married into a normal-sized family it only increased the number of people I was related to by five percent.

I have happily spent decades of Thanksgivings and Christmases Day and Eve with dozens of people. When I spent my first holiday at my in-laws’ house, it was nice to be able to fit around one table and not eat buffet style. I went even further outside of tradition when my husband and I took our then one-year-old daughter out of town and spent Thanksgiving and the surrounding days at a friend’s house, which was calm and awesome.

After I got married, someone (I’m not naming names, but it rhymes with “smy smom”) told me to start my own traditions right away or else I never could. Our first was that my husband and I were going to wake up in our house on holidays. And when I started the tradition of alternating holidays with my and my husband’s families (which often meant we’d be out of town), smy smom countered-offered my traditions and requested that if we spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with one family, we then had to have Thanksgiving 2 or Christmas 2 with the other.

While I understood where she was coming from, this was not a practice that my husband and I really embraced. During the holidays we don’t get any extra time off than the day itself. Spending hours in a car and then having to do it again the next weekend with the other family was more hassle than honored tradition.

When I was a kid, my parents hosted the big family Christmas. We’d open presents and have a big breakfast, extended family arrived for dinner, and our friends would roll in around dessert. I loved it, but that version of Christmas ended when my parents moved and there was no “home” to go home to on Christmas Day until I owned my own house. With both sets of our parents living out of town, Christmas became a scramble to do something nice with my husband and daughter, then get in the car for two hours, hang out for a few hours more, spend two more hours in the car, clean up from the morning we had to scramble through, and get ready to go back to work the next day. Bah, humbug!

Last year after driving home to our house one Christmas–our second Christmas traveling with our daughter–I had an idea. “Let’s not travel on Christmas anymore,” I said to my husband. And there was much rejoicing.

We actually did Christmas Day by ourselves at home when our daughter was only eight weeks old, and that was really nice, especially for new parents with an infant. It was a lovely change of pace, and the day still felt special without other people involved. When I picture Christmas Day for my daughter, I want her to have fun and make some memories that don’t involve a 200-mile roundtrip. And hopefully future versions of this stay-at-home promise will involve visitors coming to us, or even us leaving the house to have dinner nearby. We’re flexible to change the plan for exceptions. We still like the idea of waking up in our own home on Christmas Day, but if we have to be in Hawaii or someplace instead, then we will deal with it.

A ban on holiday travel is not so much a goodbye to tradition as it is about making the holidays work better for how we live now. I am a lucky girl to have family and friends who would even miss me on the holidays, but now’s the time to downsize my priorities from many people to three, and then build it up from there.

I will however, still let my mom make a stocking for me to open on Christmas Day. I’m not completely heartless.

photo by Fabrizio

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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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