When you think of “home for the holidays,” what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Do you think of the drive over the river and through the woods? Or maybe it’s the navigating of schedules between in-laws and stepparents. Maybe you think about the one time a year all the cousins and grand-kids get to play together. Or maybe you imagine the large holiday meals with family spilling over onto card tables.
I know I am making a broad generalization here, but it seems like most people come from huge families and when the holidays roll around, their families triple in size. It is quite something to behold. From the sidelines I marvel at it. I also envy it.
My family is a party of three. Total. That’s it. We are a three-generation family who also live together, so there’s no “let’s pile in the car and head to so and so’s house!” We are quaint. We do our best with our small family holiday traditions.
For most of the year I relish in my family because we have been through a lot, survived and endured so much, and bounced back from some pretty hard times. We genuinely delight in each other and our triangle of three works.
But then the end of November pops up on the calendar and I become hyper aware of OTHER families and their dynamics and suddenly their grass becomes oh so green. Listening to friends talk about how they have to dodge questions about politics or religion fascinates me. That’s not something I have to worry about in my home.
It wasn’t always like this. When I was a kid our holiday get-togethers could fill a dining room table. I had two grandparents, two uncles, my mom, and me. Sometimes one of my uncles was married. Sometimes my other uncle had a girlfriend. Sometimes my mom had a boyfriend. We had traditions, we had inside jokes, we even had rules about gifts.
The Christmases of my youth were wonderful, magical even. My grandfather always blasted classic holiday music from his study, and my grandmother spent days planning and cooking the family holiday meal. The memories are some of the most cherished I have.
It’s because of my fondness for the memories that I feel a touch of sadness about my son not experiencing a holiday like the ones I knew. I looked forward to receiving fun and quirky gifts from my relatives. It was always a cool mystery to discover what an uncle I rarely saw would be inspired to gift me with. My grandparents always surprised me, and Santa spoiled me. It was during the holidays that my grandmother taught me the art of writing thank you cards. Every year she would gift me with a new box of stationary and STRONGLY suggest that I delay playing with any toys until I had taken the time to properly thank the gift-giver.
My son doesn’t expect such a lavish Christmas morning because he has never known one. I do confess to probably buying him more gifts than I budgeted for because I want him to feel like he has enough. That is entirely my own holiday baggage that I need to check, because he isn’t the kid who has some sort of epic wish list.
Our holidays are quiet and simple. Unless I do something to change that, they are probably going to stay that way.
I can’t suddenly grow my family between now and the holidays, but what I can do is hone in on traditions. The tricky bit is finding the ones that will work for us and be something we genuinely look forward to every year. These are the fantastically small family holiday traditions we’ve claimed so far:
1. My mother and son pick out a tree together
2. We play and sing holiday music in the car, but ONLY in the month of December
3. If we see holiday decorations up before December, we belt out, “TOO SOON!”
4. If we see a fantastically festive home decorated to perfection we croon, “Oo la la!” (sometimes with a point system)
5. We decorate the home together: inside and out
6. We purchase a new ornament for the tree
7. We write letters to our neighbors
8. Something new this year: finding the perfect Christmas morning breakfast to make and enjoy together
If all of the old adages are true: “quality over quantity” and “size doesn’t matter,” then having great time with each other is the true measurement of a proper family holiday. That being said, feel free to invite us over to hang out on the day after Christmas!More On