Sunday, December 8, 2019

Unconventional Christmas by @ElsaKurt #RomanceGems

Christmas Eve

Growing up, my Christmas tradition comprised two very different celebrations. On Christmas Eve, we went to my Oma and Opa's house (my German grandparents) where we basically ate all day long.  

The main meal graced the long dining room table at around two - a meal my Oma prepared, cooked, and served single-handedly (because she trusted no one with her good china or her recipes). We'd eat until bursting, then men would wander off to watch football, and the women would clear the dishes (this was the seventies and early eighties, mind you). The kids carried on a steady litany of requests to open presents. When the adults couldn't take a minute more of our begging, they'd make a production of swearing they heard sleigh bells outside. We'd hush in anticipation. A knock on the front door made us gasp. Then, a hearty, "Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!" followed - along with a couple extra jingle, jingles - and my grandmother would announce, "I wonder who that was," to which we'd scream, "Santa!" Shortly after that, we'd tear through the gifts like Tasmanian devils.

Tradition Check

I learned, much later in life, that this was not how most families handled the whole Santa business. In fact, it was my first husband (and father to my two grown daughters) who looked at me as if I'd just come off of Crazy Island when I explained how we celebrated Christmas.

He said, "What do you mean, Santa delivers the presents on Christmas Eve and you open them? All of them?"
"Duh," I said.
"No. That's just... wrong. Santa comes Christmas Eve night, while the kids are asleep, and they open the presents on Christmas Day morning. Have you not seen a single Christmas movie ever?"

My mouth opened and snapped shut. Wait. He was right. Damn.

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day, we packed up our gear and went to my father's parents, my Abuelo and Abuela. My memories of how we celebrated there are bizarrely hazy. Of course we ate and open presents and did all the stuff and things, I'm certain. But what I remember of those visits revolved around watching this cool new channel called MTV, where I could see videos of my favorite bands singing their songs. I recall swinging around and around the railing out front, sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of my grandparent's three-family house, and sneaking up to the third floor to meet the tenant's newest litter of kittens. Weird, right? My only explanation is that we really spent the lion's share of time with the German side of the family, especially when the Cuban side all moved to Florida.

Fast Forward

When raising my daughters, my then-husband and I repeated the "my family on Christmas Eve," and "your family on Christmas Day" tradition. I can only hope my girls' recollections are as fond as my own. (I'll have to ask them this Christmas). I finally understood how exhausting it had been for my parents - the packing up, traveling, unpacking, repeat - sigh. I hosted as often as was fair, but we still did a LOT of traveling back then.

Little Further Forward

After my ex and I divorced, we kept the routine the same. Christmas Eve, mine. Christmas Day, his. But it sucked waving goodbye to my kids on Christmas morning just as much as it sucked for my ex to not see the girls on Christmas Eve. Eventually, we evolved into us all - my "new" husband and me, the girls, and my ex and his wife - celebrating Christmas Day morning together, so we both got to watch them open presents. We also conferred and co-ordinated. You get this, we'll get that. Go half and half? Sure, why not. And we also agreed to spend an equal amount so neither parent "outshone" the other. 

Christmas 2019

This year, we're really re-writing the script. You ready for this? My husband and I are flying to Florida this year for Christmas... and staying with my ex-husband and his wife... to celebrate Christmas with our girls. Five days of unconventional family-ing. Crazy, right? Our daughters - now twenty-seven and twenty-two - are still both a little amused and bemused. How the heck do they explain us, their unconventional parental units to friends and boyfriends? Hopefully, it's by saying something like, "Yeah, I know it's weird, but my parents are divorced and remarried to other people, but it's cool because they're all friends and that makes my life easier."

I mean, that's what started it all in the first place: wanting to make divorce a little easier on the girls. We hated making them a statistic. We hated the tension, the anxiousness, the awkwardness, the sadness, the guilt... the ugh of divorce. Plus, I think we were tired of hating each other, too. So, in the end, we're all making out pretty darn good in this deal. 

Side Note: Most people, upon hearing our story, cringe for our respective spouses. They usually wonder how they cope with us being so involved in our exes lives, thereby pulling them in, too. My husband and my exes' wife - who I jokingly refer to as my sort-of sister-wife - both readily acknowledge the strangeness of the situation. But they're also both "all in" kind of people. They get it and they love the girls, and that's usually all the explanation needed. My husband put it best (if not originally) when he said in response to someone's raised eyebrows, "Listen. We've got a perfectly imperfect life, and I love it."

Embracing the Oddness

I used to envy the ultra-conventional families and wish mine looked like theirs. Now, I'm just happy for them and hope their life is what I envision it to be like. But I love my unconventional life, too. It was fought for and hard-won. Despite whatever battle scars we may all have, we're on the other side of it and appreciating where we're at. This, as my beloved Cary Grant was known to say, is the good stuff. 

See you in the new year! xo - Elsa


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  1. I love this--it's a true definition of family. We started staying home for Christmas when our kids were small so they could enjoy the day and their stuff. I've never regretted that, but I must admit to wishing my house was still full on Christmas morning.

  2. We celebrated Christmas Eve with my father's Irish side of the family. No Santa arrival, but we opened all our gifts Christmas Eve. I remember asking my mom why they didn't wait until the next day and she said, that's just how they do it. I've met others who celebrate this way--opening the gifts on the Eve. Some people wait until after. It's all about when your family can gather.

  3. I love your Christmas stories, Elsa and commend you all for putting your children first. This is what I write...families dealing with acceptance of their new roles. Cheers!

  4. I love that you all are so mature and adult about your situation. It's so hard when the children are the ones to suffer. And I guess we're changing places as I'll be spending a few weeks in NH this Christmas with my daughter and not in Florida!
    Merry Christmas!!

  5. This is wonderful. The way y'all do things is how it should be. It's not weird. It's refreshing and heart-warming. Y'all have fun this Christmas!

  6. I think it's great every family has its own traditions. What works for one family won't necessarily work for another one. Makes life interesting, hearing how others do it.

  7. Obviously you've worked out a happy tradition for your blended family. Growing up, I had a lovely, traditional Christmas. When our girls were small, we dragged them three hundred miles to stay with grandparents. Both sets lived in the same town, attended the same Sunday School class, and their houses were not that far apart. My mother-in-law was a bit defensive and kept track of how much time we spent at each house and how much we ate at her house. It was not fun. One year, after cousins broke several of our girls toys and a sister-in-law's high drama, we told them we were staying home after that and would come for New Years. The next year, both girls had pneumonia and had to be hospitalized the day after Christmas. They still said that was the best Christmas they'd ever had. You can bet we always stayed home for Christmas after that.

    1. Good for you guys! My husband & I stayed home for New Year's year before last and decided it was our best time ever. So, we're staying in again this year & having lobster & crab legs. ;)

  8. My sister-in-law and her husband do the same thing with her ex husband and wife! They all (kids and grandkids) go to the ex-husbands for Christmas and they all get along great. I think this is really great! Everybody wins.

    1. Thanks Martha! It's never dull, that's for sure ;)

  9. My family is very blended and we did things very mixed up just liked that, so I ended up passing all of that down to my kids. I loved it and they did too. Now its on down to their kids. Family is what you make it, its all about love.

  10. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and often blended, and your Christmas story is an inspiring example! Ignore those naysayers, they'll never get it. Perfectly imperfect is...well... Perfect! We all know divorced parents/kids/families that sadly don't get it, and everyone suffers. You guys are great for working together to love and raise your kids. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Elsa! ALL of yours!

  11. Love your post, Elsa. I'm still very good friends with my ex, and he and my hubby are friends too. Every couple of years, my ex comes to visit. I've always thought it's best for the kids if the divorced couple get along. Besides teaching civility and kindness to the kids, it creates an atmosphere of trust and happiness for all those involved.


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