J and I met, became best friends, fell in love, and moved to another state within eight months of meeting. When we moved to Saint Louis, a good four and a half hours from our mutual home county, we were thrilled to be starting our life together. But we hadn’t put in a whole lot of time, and when the holiday season rolled around we were faced with an awkward prospect: We wouldn’t be making it back to our parents’ houses for Christmas.
J worked weekends and holidays while in grad school, meaning he was asked to work Christmas and Christmas Eve. After having worked out a way to make it home for Thanksgiving, he was reluctant to make a fuss over the schedule again. He had, after all, just started the job a couple months earlier. Then, one week before Christmas our car was stolen (we got it back, though!). So, there it was. We couldn’t go back for Christmas.
It was the first holiday either of us was going to be away for, and the guilt kicked in right away. Our parents understood, although they were of course disappointed we wouldn’t be there. Staying home on Christmas felt like something real adults did, real adults with kids who didn’t want to get in the car on Christmas morning. But we were just grad students who had met all of a year ago. In a strange way, it felt like we hadn’t put in enough effort yet to qualify for holidays at home. As if we had to spend so many hours wrangling unruly children into Christmas dresses and bow ties before we could spend the morning in our pajamas on the couch. We made plans to celebrate with our families later, over a weekend we could get away from town, but we both still wondered if we were doing the right thing.
As it happened, being alone on Christmas Eve and Christmas was perfect. When J got home late on Christmas Eve, we decided to make midnight bacon cinnamon rolls and stay up late. He worked in the afternoon on Christmas Day, so we spent the morning eating food, talking on the phone with our respective families, and watching movies until he had to leave. No driving, no dividing our time between families, just spending time together. It was then that I realized J (and our cats) are my family, and there was nothing wrong with celebrating just we four. Making bacon cinnamon rolls at midnight, struggling to make a perfect Swedish tea ring, and baking a tiny ham on Christmas morning were traditions being born, the same way our parents had made their own traditions. Sure, we weren’t married, but we were still navigating the future together and learning how to be a family unit. Our first Christmas as a couple just happened to be the first Christmas we lived together and celebrated on our own—it’s actually quite convenient when you think about it.
We’ve now celebrated two Christmases and two Easters on our own, and having moved across country this past summer, it looks like it’s a good thing we set that precedent early. A lot of people are surprised when we tell them we don’t come back to our parents’ for Christmas, but it’s often surprise tinged with understanding. Coming back for holidays is expensive, draining, and depending on who you bump into around town, quite awkward. But we are lucky enough to avoid that and spend the day curled up together watching old movies and drinking hot chocolate. Then, later, we’re able to spend a quiet day or two with our families rather than a hectic afternoon. For us it’s the ideal set up, giving us family time on a family holiday and still giving us a chance to see the people we don’t get to see nearly enough. And that, in the end, is what holidays are about.