For most of my life, I have clung to traditions.
They tell me what comes next. They assure me that I belong somewhere. In a life that didn’t always provide a strong sense of security or an abundance of constants, my traditions offered a much needed anchor.
When I got married and had children of my own I was eager to begin passing on my traditions within my own family. This was most evident when it came to the holidays.
On Christmas Eve we would load up the car with gifts and head to evening Mass with my mother. My two brothers, the last two Catholic hold outs in the bunch, would attend Church with us as a gift to our mom. After Mass we would gather at one of our homes, eat entirely too late and exchange presents.
Then Jared and I would pile back into the car, reminding the kids that we had to hurry if we were going to be in bed by the time Santa arrived! Devin would search the night sky as we drove for some sign that a sleigh was in the area.
We’d tuck Devin (and later Emma) into bed and I’d pull out the stocking stuffers and separate them into bags – one for each stocking so that Santa would know what went where. Within a few minutes we’d hear jingle bells outside, followed by a knock at the door.
A tall man in a red suit with black boot covers over his tennis shoes would come through the door, his paper white beard around his neck and a girlfriend (and later wife) following behind him.
We found ourselves suddenly speaking in whispers and sharing hushed giggles. We felt like elves, responsible for spreading magic and preserving the Christmas spirit. It was impossible not to let some of the enchantment touch you as well.
When everyone was in place, Santa in front of a video camera that was positioned discreetly off to the side and the girlfriend out of sight, Jared and I would tip toe up the stairs to the bedrooms and kneel down beside the children’s beds.
“Devin! Devin!” we’d whisper with as much force as we could muster while still maintaining the appearance of trying to be quiet. “Devin! Get up! Santa is here! Come see! Come see!”
And we’d sneak him, half pushing and half dragging his sleep laden body, to the top of the stairs so he could get a glimpse. He’d rub his eyes and ask again why we’d woken him up. We’d whisper again and point in the direction of his stocking where Santa was standing with a big sack, stuffing each over sized sock.
Inevitably, Devin would blink, his eyes would widen, and he’d run from the top of the stairs in a panic.
“Devin! Devin! Come back, it’s OK,” I’d call, still trying to maintain my whisper.
But it would be too late. He’d have gotten a glimpse and thrown himself back under his covers, terrified that Santa would discover he’d been sneaking up on him. Jared and I would kiss him goodnight, close his bedroom door, and giggle wildly at one another – pleased that his belief in magic was still firmly in place.
The next morning Devin (and later Emma) would stand by the bed, staring at us until I woke up. We’d start coffee and set up cameras while Devin sorted gifts into piles and marveled at how many had his name on them (and later Emma’s.)
And then our family, my family, would enjoy Christmas morning together.
Later in the morning we’d pile up more gifts in the car and head to Jared’s parents house, ready to engage in their holiday traditions.
I’m missing that right now.
This year is our second year living away from home. And for the second time, we’ll load up our gifts into suitcases, board a plane, and fly back to spend Christmas with the people who mean the most to us.
We’re all excited to go. We’re grateful that we can, especially in today’s economy, afford to make the trip. We’re thankful that our residential distance won’t prevent us from being part of many of our families’ traditions.
But still… today…
I’m sad that my children won’t wake up in their beds on Christmas morning.
They won’t see Santa sneak into their house. They won’t watch him, or anyone, fill their stockings. They won’t even have stockings this year. They won’t enjoy those precious early Christmas morning hours when you’re allowed to have every toy you own open and strung across the house, without one thought to playing with one thing at a time or picking up after yourself.
It’s a choice that I made – that we made. I’m aware of that.
And it’s a choice that I’ll make over and over again as long as I can. The holidays will always be about family for us, and for Jared and I that will always include our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I chose to hold on to those traditions and values in place of the ones made in my own home.
I’m aware. I get that.
But for right now… for today…
I have no stocking stuffers to get. No cookies to bake. I have only a suitcase to pack and new luggage to purchase.
And for right now… for today…
That’s leaving me feeling a little lost in limbo.