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.
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.
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.
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.
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 for and fought 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 , is the good stuff. was known to say
See you in the new year!
xo - Elsa
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