For every year of our marriage, in spite of long distances and busy schedules and being poor graduate students, my husband and I and our children always went home for Christmas. "Home" is near Phoenix, Arizona where both my husband and I were raised and where both sets of parents and all three of our sisters still live. Given that we were the only ones that left -- to Michigan, to Tennessee, and now, to Charleston -- they always had critical mass. We could travel and see everyone. It was so convenient.
Convenient, that is, for everyone but us. As it turned out, those holiday trips to Arizona were more stressful than jolly. There were insanely busy airports, pricey plane tickets, and transfers of gifts to and fro. Logistics didn't get any easier as we negotiated the division of time that was always too short between families that were always so eager to have us around. It was wonderful to see everyone, of course, but after a decade of sleeping in guest bedrooms and eating every holiday meal twice, a part of me wanted nothing more than to wake up Christmas morning in my own house, where I could eat a bowl of cereal and open gifts without having to put on a bra.
Last year, I got my wish. I was 38 weeks pregnant on Christmas Day, making our annual cross-country pilgrimage to the desert an impossibility. For the first time, we spent Christmas in our own home. This year, due to my husband's work schedule and the expense of plane travel for a family of four in a sluggish economy, we'll be doing the same.
These two years have been a great gift for our young family. They've given us the chance to examine the long-standing traditions of our families of origin and figure out what we want to hold onto or adapt to our new surroundings. For instance, my husband's family has a traditional meal of oyster stew on Christmas Eve. We've decided to make oysters a part of our celebration, but with the advantage of a coastal location that makes them fresh and local. Both of our families open family gifts on Christmas Eve and Santa gifts and stockings Christmas Day, and we've decided to do the same.
We're also creating new traditions unique to our little foursome. Gingerbread house construction has grown from a whimsical holiday activity to a competitive sport around here. (My husband took home the creativity prize last year when he turned a red food coloring mishap into inspiration for a gingerbread man homicide scene.) Walks on the beach are also a special treat for this family of water lovers. We went last year the afternoon of Christmas Day and created some gorgeous memories. We plan to do the same this year.
At some point, we will probably brave the crowds and box up the presents to share Christmas in Arizona again. For now, however, we're enjoying the chance to cocoon our little family in fleece blankets and crumpled wrapping paper, creating something new out of bits of the old.
Cross-posted at the Being Savvy Holiday blog.