It’s a very unChristmas this year. Not because I don’t feel celebratory (I do!) or because I don’t love Christmas (I really do) but because everything is nonsense-backwards this year.
Today, for example. It’s Christmas Eve today. As kids, we would have arrived at my grandparents’ on the dot of 4pm, ready for present opening, eating of endless cheeses, Christmas punch, sometimes eggnog, always meatballs. Sometimes dinner I guess, but that’s less clear. And carols, holding hands, singing around the tree.
Yet on this Christmas Eve, I am doing none of those things. Instead, I’m watching 5th Element and eating Qdoba nachos.
Holidays are one of the roughest parts of blended families, letting go of the traditions you had as a child, plus those you envisioned for your own family as an adult. In our house, we invented Paper Christmas to combat this, a tradition simultaneously symbolizes everything I love and everything that is heartbreaking about living in a blended family.
Only, that post was a lie.
In reality, the kids cheerfully taped paper ornaments to that stupid paper tree while Kermit the Frog sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and then I started crying and had to leave the room. Dan followed to talk me off the ledge, in the incredible way only he can do. And I cried that the paper tree was bullshit, that celebrating Christmas on December 30 is bullshit too, that this is the stupidest holiday ever because it’s made up on a random day. And that we will never have a real Christmas, just like we will never be a real family.
Dan pointed out– look, the kids are happy. They think it’s Christmas, so it’s Christmas. Who cares what the date is? And we are a real family, dammit. So what if we have zero examples of families like ours to look to? So what? We’re our own thing. We’re trailblazers.
And he’s right.
I realized in that moment it was only my stubborn perception of how the holiday “should” be that was interfering with feeling celebratory. No one gave a crap about the real-ness of the holiday except me. I pulled it together, returned to the ridiculous paper tree, tried to appreciate that we had created– for the first time in our lovable disaster of a family, actually– something new, something from scratch. A new tradition that is 100 percent ours.
Then I went on to write my blog post about how the calendar day doesn’t matter. And somehow, in the intervening couple years since then, it’s even become true.
Look, Christmas-on-the-day is a farce anyway. Most scholars agree that historical Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25. Mistletoe and the Yule log come straight from my ancestors, the pagan Norsemen. And the whole gift exchange thing has its roots in the Saturnalia. Regardless of the various appropriated traditions, though, calendar Christmas on December 25 is when families gather to celebrate.
Except that’s backwards, for us.
When our family carves out time from custody schedules, THAT is our Christmas. A perhaps arbitrary yet no less authentic celebration that only other blended families trying like crazy to create their own Christmas traditions can appreciate.
In Alice in Wonderland, every day that isn’t your birthday is your unbirthday. And our Christmas is an unChristmas, a celebratory day anywhere between December 29th and New Year’s. The date doesn’t matter; “Christmas” is whenever we get around to celebrating it.
Our Christmas is like that. We’re the only ones celebrating. It’s a day that’s all ours. Anything is possible.
Just like the Whos down in Whoville, we celebrate our Christmas without a (real) tree, without my childhood trappings of untangling light strings with my dad or my red and green plaid taffeta dress.
Instead, our Christmas has a paper tree with glitter-glue ornaments cut from brown Trader Joe’s shopping bags. The inaugural song every year is Elvis crooning Blue Christmas. And we watch holiday movies (Elf, then Scrooged, usually in that order) while we wrap presents.
Crossover holiday traditions from childhood? None.
The feel of Christmas in the air, the family celebration and joy and presents and togetherness and loving one another? We’ve got that covered.
Even when it falls somewhere around December 30th.
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Listen, I put together a new website just for high-conflict blended families: Blended Family Frappé. Come on over and join the hundreds of other stepparents who are reclaiming their sanity one Sunday newsletter at a time.