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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Christmas Decision

Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year. I love the Christmas carols, the baking, the family togetherness, the anticipation. I love hoping that our gift to someone becomes The Gift Of The Year, especially if said someone is under four feet tall. I love watching the twinkling lights and hearing the Christmas story read in hushed tones. I love quietly slipping small items inside a certain something after most have settled for the night.

I adore Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day is a bit more complex. Because I love it, I do. But it's hectic. And the focus tends to be less on Jesus and more on me, Me, ME. Presents are a complex thing. I adore giving them to others, but feel uncomfortable accepting them. And I worry that presents will become the major focus of the holiday for our Tongginator, even though we do our best to ensure that she learns Jesus should be the center of our celebrations.

Extended family makes things even more complicated.

I am blessed because my family is wonderful. We've enjoyed - even reveled - in every holiday celebration we've spent together. I love my mom and dad, my sister and her family. We have little to no conflict in our family, and we adore spending time with one another. Over the holidays, we laugh a ton, fiercely compete over Scrabble games, tease mercilessly, cuddle nieces and nephews, and serve one another graciously.

Even still... extended family makes things more complicated.

Not every family is as cohesive as mine. Some families, like my husband's, struggle to find common ground. Past hurts and conflicts, despite forgiveness, linger beneath the surface. Distance separates for most of the year.

Even if there is an abundance of love and acceptance, family units within a larger extended family have different ways of doing things. Siblings raised in the same house do not necessarily live life in the same way, since leaving and cleaving to one's spouse means that each family develops unique family traditions. Personalities, values, even family size, also play a role.

This is never more apparent than at the holidays, especially Christmas. One family celebrates with Santa... one does not. One family STUFFS stockings and showers children with presents... one does not. One family bends their rules when a child asks Santa for a much-desired present... one does not. As children age, they notice these differences and it becomes an issue. Because parents are then forced to either compromise and adjust, or stick to their guns and explain.

"Different rules for different families."

I never understood why so many families remained fiercely adamant that their children should wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning. I mean, I got the whole "how will Santa find me?" worry, yet it seemed easily explainable. Maybe it was just the Tongginator, but we always successfully and quickly reassured her. Plus, the Husband and I don't mind if Santa becomes an afterthought in our house. The Tongginator has only woken up in her own bed ONCE on Christmas morning, and that was when she was too young to remember.

I've recently begun to realize how much credit she deserves for that. She's never been a lamb or an angel in a nativity play because we've always missed the Christmas Eve service at our home church. She's never looked at her tree on Christmas Eve night, watching the family ornaments glow amid the twinkling lights. She's never been able to "escape to her room" when the festivities grew too loud. She's never woken up in her own bed on Christmas morning.

She's always had to accommodate.

So have we.

The Husband and I recently decided that this year was our last year to travel at Christmas. Carting things to and fro is the least of our worries. It's just... it's gotten too difficult to explain to the Tongginator that families have different rules, even when it comes to presents. It's gotten too difficult to think of all of the things she is missing - WE are missing - because we are not in our own home. It's gotten too difficult to stress the traditions important to us in another family's home.

My family felt surprised when we let slip our decision this past weekend, but I know they understood, although I believe they thought it was more the carting-to-and-fro issue than anything else. I do feel sad that I won't share those late night Christmas Eve stocking sessions with my sister and mom, who revel in it as much as I do, but I know that my Husband and I will only grow closer sharing the task. Mostly, I feel sad that the Tongginator will no longer enjoy Christmas morning with her cousins, but next year her sister will be there to share in the joy.

And that? Is as it should be.

For our family, at least.


Number 6 and no more counting! said...

good decision!


Laurie said...

Watch out- you'll love being home on Christmas morning with those TWO beautiful girls so much that you'll never want to travel again! :)

Anonymous said...

As much as I adore spending the holidays with my family, we have been trying for a couple of years now to make it that they come to us, instead of the other way around. It still hasn't happened yet ... but we're hoping that once we move from the Northeast to the Midwest, there will be more understanding on everyone's part about us not traveling on the holidays.

Because how will our kids ever have such wonderful family memories and traditions like we have, if all we ever do is participate in other's?

Cedar said...

Our families are close enough that we see people Christmas Eve and Christmas day but are home for Christmas morning (though my husbans's sister and husband come for breakfast because they have no kids to watch open presents), but even that ends up feeling like too much at times. I can certainly understand staying home. I was actually wondering if I could talk my dad's family into a family dinner a week before or after Christmas so we could still see everyone but everyone spend Christmas day relaxing as a small family. Maybe I will look into doing that.

Football and Fried Rice said...

i think it is a wonderful decision!

the hub and i both like our families, really we do. and we'd be happy to get together with them on the 26th or the 31st or any other day. christmas eve? christmas day? it's about OUR family, celebrating OUR way, loving OUR Jesus. ((yes, this includes being able to yell & fight too!)

we love,love,love our decision to spend our Christmas with OUR family. Any other day, we'd be happy to break bread & exchange gifts. But that day? it's all about waking up to your OWN chaos.

And next year? will be your best year EVER! Not only cause little sister will be home, but because your decision has and will be honored and you will feel greta about it;)

Football and Fried Rice said...

not greta about it. great. wow.

Myrnie said...

OH yes, this is so hard...we've done the years where we spent the entire day driving from aunt to grandma to grandma to home to...who knows where! We've done the years staying over the holidays with "away" family. We've done the years home, just visiting with my family and calling his...always, always someone feels left out and always, always I wonder...when am I allowed to say "If you want to see us, we'll be right here?" I hope your holidays were wonderful, and that this new year brings your family many blessings!!

prechrswife said...

It sounds like a good decision. The way our calendar usually works out, we have been leaving on Christmas Day to go and visit family. This year, we were home, just because of the way our schedule worked out. We actually missed the family trip, but our kids have always been home on Christmas morning. I can see how the different standards for Santa could be an issue.

Polar Bear said...

Growing up we spent many Christmases traveling seven hours south to my grandparents' homes. We would alternate every year which grandparent we would spend Christmas Eve. Then after Christmas morning breakfast we would pack up and travel and hour to the other grandparent's house.

It was crazy and hectic but as kids it was all we knew and it was the way we spent Christmas. I'll never forget the year my parents said, "Enough". We weren't traveling south for Christmas. The first year it was hard, but my mom worked really hard to make new memories and traditions. For a few years I begged and pleaded to go south, but in time I truly enjoyed our quiet family Christmas at home.

You will make the best decision for your family. It is going to be amazing next year when little sister is home. ;o)

LucisMomma said...

You'll do great making your own traditions...and Miss T can help decide what those will be. :)

Sharie said...

Family is great, in small doses. By the 26th mine was at each other's throats.
Amelia and her cousin Katie were bickering like sisters. I was complaining about my sister, she was complaining about my mom. I think 1 family Christmas is enough and I had 4 all with the same family!

One year I did boycott Christmas morning and no one else enjoyed it as much because I have the youngest grandchild...I may have to take a lesson from you and not allow the guilt to take away from starting my own family traditions. We may be small, but we are still a family:)

A Beautiful Mess said...

When Ben and Hannah were little we were of the "wake up at home for Christmas" and I am happy that we had that time together to get caught up in their excitement.....and after lunch we would jump in the car and travel 12 hours in the car to celebrate with my side of the family:) When I went back to work we decided no more traveling on Christmas day.
I miss celebrating with my family, gifts in the mail are just not the same thing. We have not been home for Christmas in quite some time, but we are thinking about making the trip next year....maybe.

lmgnyc said...

Good for you TM. A very diplomatic and well written post.

Debbie said...

I never had that "have to wake up in their own beds" attitude but the first Christmas that my MIL chastised me for being on the floor playing with my kids and her "not being able to see them as well" made me realize I would never spend Christmas outside my home again.
And I haven't:)

Laine said...

Years ago we made a commitment to spend Christmas at home. We welcome anyone who wants to come to our house, but we don't want to be anywhere else but home on that day. It has been such a blessing. Our Christmas Eves are spent at home with a sweet family friend. We get together with extended family either before or after Christmas, but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are at home. In our pajamas if we want to be. On our own schedule. Eating breakfast at noon. Napping. Playing.
You will be so blessed! And I love the thought that you will have TWO daughters to share the GREATEST GIFT of all with next year! :)

Happy New Year! 2011 holds so much promise!


Michelle@BornInOurHearts said...

Hey there stranger!! It's so nice to "see" you. ;)

Difficult as they may be, you have to make these decisions for your family. Being an adult is not always fun, eh? But next year all of this will be forgotten as you celebrate as a family of FOUR!! YAY!!!

Happy New Year!

3 Peanuts said...

I have been THAT family who says that my kids will wake up own their own beds on Christmas morning NOT because of Santa or the presents but because we are a family and I want to focus on our values, traditions, celebrations of Jesus birth our way NOT anyone elses. I know my peanuts have grown to love this. Family is always welcome to our home on Christmas and over the years various people from both sides have made the trip. but I have never once regretted us being home for Christmas. You will have a delightful one next ear and I am sorry of things went badly this year. Really, really sorry.

3 Peanuts said...

I am also really really sorry about my typos....I think you get my gist though.

Mama.The.Dragon said...

Oh... one of my husband's requests (he only had 3) when we started talking about becoming parents was: We would wake-up in our own beds in our own house on Christmas morning. I thought: OK, no big deal! (As kids we never traveled over Christmas!).

So far things have worked out for us... though since we are just a little family of three, I wonder if we'll rob our daughter of 'enjoying' one of those BIG CRAZY CHRISTMAS mornings with cousins.

Heather of the EO said...

I just have to say that I totally respect and admire this. I struggled with many of these same things this year (and years before) and I'm still struggling with having the confidence to "just say no" to our families even though I know it's best.

I'm getting there :)

Debby said...

Traditions change through the years. You can continue some of the same traditions in your own home. Maybe the others can come to your home. I know at first we were always going to our parents. Then as our children got older we spent the day at our home and others came here.
Now with my children grown we respect their time together as a family and we are the flexible grandparents. It all works out. Don't over stress about it. Just do your best. It is hard when both sides of your families do things differently. We have that with out own adult kids. They all celebrate differently.
Again it all works out.

Patty O. said...

We were supposed to go to Chicago this Christmas and even got on the road when a snow storm hit. We decided to turn around and head back home, which was good, because Charlotte ended up with the stomach flu--in the car.

Anyway, I thought it would be so hard to be away from my family on Christmas, but really? It was the best Christmas EVER for me. I loved staying home, being calm and peaceful and being able to completely focus on the kids and the reason for Christmas, rather than on all the food and parties and relatives. It was blissful.

I think I may have to decide to quit traveling for Christmas from now on. We'll have to see.

Missy said...

Oh, sweet Tonggu Momma...I hear your heart, sister! I think that you are making a great decision and one that your family will benefit from. Make new traditions with your sis and parents. I know you love them fiercely, but you gotta do what's best for you, friend! I didn't realize that by next year you will have Mei Mei home!!! Oh, now I am GIDDY! Thank you for being so transparent! I love your heart!

The Drinkwaters said...

We spent our first Christmas at home with just our family of four together. The motivator for this decision was our new daughter, as we have only recently returned from China.

At first my husband mentioned a couple of times it didn't feel like Christmas, but by the end of the day he commented on how it was the most stress free and relaxing Christmas in years. We just spent time together as a family - and it was wonderful.

We do get together regularly with our extended family for meals and celebrations, so for us opting out of the big extended family Christmas was no big deal (although some family felt it was a big deal - and you can't please them all).

Enjoy building your new traditions!

Dita said...

So beautifully written, TM....and so completely understood.

Old Family Traditions can sometimes be like Old Hollywood Icons and Once Great TV Series; both of which should gracefully call it quits before they age out and become painfully bland..leaving that memory as their legacy!

JR and I decided to make staying home on Christmas Eve OUR new family tradition back in 2004 and though we didn't have to travel far to be with family to share in their tradition...I can honestly say we are thrilled with the new one we have created.

Its called...being home in our comfy clothes in our cozy little house and welcoming friends or neighbors (or in this case a person we only just met a week ago who was alone) to our home who don't have somewhere to be on Christmas Eve .

You'll be surprised how good your OWN bed feels after a long night of "stuffing" (your face and those stockings!)

Can't wait to call you Mom of Two!


3cmum said...

I so get it. This XMAS was only the second in 11 years I have woken up in my own bed. But even then things can go wrong if your xmas is anything but the 4 of you next year!

When the other family comes to stay at yours and doesn't respect your family traditions...

Oh was I upset on XMAS eve after my MIL had been vocal she wasn't giving gifts on XMAS etc. Just because there was so much under the tree. Would not believe the other stuff was for the 8 others joining us later that day. ONLY then did she hand out pressies to the kids who were completely confused.

Oh and the little things...like not getting out of bed till 10:30 and making the kids wait to open gifts when I've lunch for 15 to make????

But there is no way I can get to do XMAS without having them here...

TK said...

I Always like to be at our own home for Christmas morning too. Who wants to tote all that stuff anyway?
This year was our first year with our son so it was so special to have both our kiddos wake up to that wonderful morning, just us parents and the kids. Just our little family. The wonder and joy in their eyes was amazing. And I have pictures to prove it!
Kim O.

Anonymous said...

Despite staying home for Christmasm I am still wading through family dysfunction via phone calls. You wrote about your husband's family in such a kind, loving way. Oh how I hope I can get there some day.
Staying home was AWESOME you are going to love it.
Also, SKYPE - can't say it enough. My mother was able to be "with us" while we opened gifts but she was in the comfort of her own home. She got to see the joy her gifts brought our kids without any added complications. I love Skype.

Kristi said...

I'm hoping that someday we'll be respected when we finally get the courage to make that same decision...

Carla said...

shhh...but we're thinking of not traveling at all either. In-laws will be UNHAPPY to say the least, my family will likely be okay. The past 2 years we've done Christmas morning at home, and LOVED it. Finally, we're building our own traditions. :)

Cavatica said...

I totally get the differing family values getting difficult to explain... we are getting there too. Not quite yet, but we (Hubs and I talk about how to manage this, so I appreciate this post). BTW, we are raising BB to be agnostic about Santa. We expose her to him, as he is so important to many in our society, and we teach her to respect his believers. However, we want her to make up her own mind about him when she's older.

Wanda said...

Good for you. There's nothing like being "home" on Christmas and building your own traditions. And I love that you'll be starting this - this year - with your new little one. I cannot wait to see/hear about that!!!

Mia_h_n said...

I completely know what you mean about Christmas Eve. Of course here we celebrate on the 24th but still. Because then all the stressing and worrying is over. The gates are open, the chips are falling where they may.
Don't get me wrong, I still stress on The Eve, but it's a different kind of stress.

Family stress for instance. The Husband and I are either with his or my side of the family, and fortunately we agree on what kind of Christmas we like the best. It's not that we don't love his family or them us, but as far as traditions and values, his family went to the dark side after the arrival of his sister's kids 10+ years ago. Now it's ALL about presents!!

For that reason we have spend Christmas Even with my family for the past 4 years and then visited the in-laws either before or after during the holidays.
So this year we thought we'd go back. The kids are older now, so maybe everything had cooled down and the focus turned back to love and traditions and togetherness.
Unfortunately not so much, so we're both looking forward next year with my side.

I'm glad you've made the decision to celebrate Christmas the way YOU want to. I'm sure you'll be happy with it.
It's not just because we don't have kids or because we live in a broom closet, but we will continue to go to the in-laws every other year because we love them and because the price of a materialistic Christmas is one we gladly pay to avoid the dreaded hosting duties! :)

Chris said...

I have been meaning to add my 2 cents...here goes:


We had to make the same decision several years ago....like back in the 90's! (yikes, that makes me sound so old!)

I have not regretted that decision ever! We have formed some wonderful memories throughout the years...and created some distinct family traditions that are just are own.

This was the first year we did not have one of our kids with us for Christmas...of course he is married now and lives 10 hours away....we talked about traveling to him and his wife for Christmas....the Littles really wanted to spend Christmas with him...but, thankfully we stuck to our guns and stayed home!

We have always said any of our family can spend Christmas with us....that door is always open....

Anyway, you will be happy with this decision, especially with your new little one joining your family soon....(how exciting!)!!!!