As far as I can tell, the only thing consistent about holidays as an adult is that they are not consistent from year to year. When I was a kid, the exact opposite was true. My mom, who worked crazy hours, would just simply not sleep in order to give me and my brother a consistently magical Christmas morning, every year. My very French family would work away the day in the kitchen to be sure that our five-course (okay, more like seven-course) meal was ready right on time. I promise we aren’t as fancy as we sound, the French just really like to stretch a meal out over a whole day. Every year, like clockwork.
For about a decade, there’s been a crappy trend in my family. For too many consecutive years, in the first third of each year, my small but mighty family has lost a member. That means every single holiday season has been… well… different. In 2007, our family holiday table had twelve people, and this year we gathered a crew of six—but only four from the original lineup—at a mountain cabin (since my childhood home sold days before Christmas). This year was different, in a million little ways.
I have to assume that most of you had holidays that looked different than they used to, or than you wanted them to. That’s life, right? Perhaps, like me, you lost a parent this year (or another family member). Or, also like me, you’re in a phase of life where you and your partner (new spouse? fiancx?) are figuring out how the heck to see all these people in a single season (Four Christmases style). Who knows, maybe you’re also (ahem, me) gently coordinating a blended family with shared custody of sweet kiddos who deserve a magic holiday, as well. Sometimes, literally everything is different.
On Combining Holidays (And Shared Custody)
Last year, my partner left the country for Christmas. It was a funky arrangement (a story for another day), but she headed off to Italy for ten days over Christmas. Lucky for me, her family is a bunch of sweeties and have taken me into the fold of their group—so, I spent last Christmas Eve with them, FaceTiming Trisha after a few too many glasses of wine while I hung out with her dad and aunt in their hometown. This year, she’s home, and it turns out, that has its own layers of struggle.
For Thanksgiving, her son was with his other mom. For Christmas Day, we had him until the afternoon. We spent Christmas Eve with her family, the morning just the three of us, and then after he headed off to his other mom’s, we jetted up to the mountains to spend time with my family. Sharing holidays and custody, for us, means lots of driving over the holidays. I’m tired, but we did it. And really, it was lovely.
On Holidays With GrIEf
Grief-stricken holidays are no news to me. Every year it’s like a bit of salt in a never-healed wound, and this year was especially rough. This was my first holiday season as an adult orphan. In January of 2019, my dad passed away after two and a half years battling cancer, and my mom passed away in 2013. I know I’m not alone in this, and it has to be said: it sucks. The night we unpacked the box of ornaments from my parents’ house was tearful—the annual family ornaments that my mom had curated throughout my life hit me right in the feels. The day I made my dad’s famous horseradish recipe to gift people was beyond emotional (I wasn’t just crying because it was so strong and spicy).
No matter how lovely we made the holiday season, how carefully we planned the meals, decor, timing, and the gifts… what I want is to spend a holiday with my parents in my childhood home. Like in the movies, I want to travel home to a crackling fire and a plate of hot cookies fresh from the oven, hugs from all my favorite people, and Christmas music playing all day. Instead, I’m here, having survived (and loved) a new normal that looks absolutely different and absolutely beautiful in the difference.
How were your holidays? Did it look the way you expected, or was it a whole new normal? What were your wins? Your losses? How are you feeling going into a whole new decade?