Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our First Christmas Morning

Our 8' x 35' home, and our VW Bug, 1969

As newlyweds we never noticed how cold it got in our trailer at night. Christmas morning we woke up to find our shower curtain frozen into it's folds. The moisture had turned to ice! To save money, we left our coal oil furnace off, so Dee jumped out of bed to light it while I stayed snug under the covers. I told him to open his first Christmas present before he lit the fire: his new extra-long matches (in a decorative box) took up residence on top of the "fireplace" as objects d' art.

When the room warmed up, we made hot chocolate with candy canes, and freshly whipped cream, and Dee lit the candles on the tree (which was dry and a huge fire hazard.) A tiny stash of presents was piled underneath. Although we'd set a $10 budget, both of us had overspent. Dee gave me a book of Bruegel art, a slip of ivory lace, and a small hymn book. Besides the matches, Dee got some 4711 Cologne, a collage of our memories, and a red flannel nightshirt that I had made. (He only wore the nightshirt once because it stuck to the sheets, and turned them red.)

Our first Christmas, 1969

The opening ceremonies took about five minutes. Part of me wanted to rush home to my parent's warm family room where a giant tree glittered and a real fireplace roared. Dad would be passing out presents for an hour, and Mom would be fixing a lavish buffet, and I could be a kid in receiving mode. But this year I was not a kid anymore—I was a wife with a home of my own and it was our first Christmas as a family.

Dee's enthusiasm for all our firsts made them fun: I cherish that about him. He has always put our family above anyone or anything else; since the day we were married his goal has been to strengthen and unify our little (now big) family. At first I would have been happy to play house, but return to my parent's home several times a week to enjoy their TV, refrigerator, and full-size tub. About a month after we were married I remember thinking, "Well, this was fun, but I want to go home where Mom does the dirty laundry, and Dad makes the scary decisions." I realize that we would have stagnated that way. It would have diminished our shaky self confidence, and kept our fledgling abilities unnoticed and unnecessary. I'm glad it was only a fleeting thought, because those attributes needed opportunity and reason to grow—too much supervision or hovering would have smothered them.

One of our great thrills has been to watch our kids start their own holiday traditions. It's fun to see which ones they include from their childhood, what their spouse brings into the mix and what ideas they come up with together (Anna). (Click the links to see their versions of our traditions.) I love hearing that somebody celebrates St. Nickolas Day (Gabi) and that somebody else remembers our George Bailey Award (Marta). They also incorporate new traditions such as the Nutcracker Ballet, sleigh riding or cooking their own fancy dinner on Christmas Eve.

We decided long ago that we would never put pressure on our kids to split their time equally, or keep track of on and off years. Now they have extra sets of parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents they want to fit around the traditions they're trying to establish in their homes. Our main gift is to take the pressure off, support their decisions, and enjoy being together in whatever configuration works best that year. Our old traditions have served their purpose, and now there are seven unique families we try to strengthen in whatever way they need—by being there, having them over, or giving them space.

Someone said, "Your traditions must not mean as much to you as mine do to me." I answered that as fun as our traditions have been, they have evolved over time. I want the tradition to work for the family, rather than the family have to work for the tradition. Although Swedish thin hot cakes were our favorite tradition for Christmas breakfast, trying to wedge in a thinny between breakfast and brunch (at three different houses, hauling three babies) seems ridiculous. The thinny won't have its feelings hurt and neither will I! "We'll be thrilled to see you anytime" has become our new holiday tradition.

Memories are worth making. I'm so glad our stubbornness in establishing that first Family Christmas in our trailer overrode my mom's heartbreak, my homesickness, and Dee's granny's disappointment. We established some traditions that year that have lasted 42 years—mainly that our marriage made us a family, and no matter how inexperienced we were, strengthening our family was our main responsibility as long as they were ours. Some year we would see them leave to establish their own family, and we would stand back and let them go. We each get our own turn—the Christmas of 1969 taught me that.


Diane said...

We have also encouraged our children to develop their own traditions and let them know that we'd love to see them when it works best for them.

This year we'll all be together. The kids worked it out, so that feels great. I think it's the first year since 2004 that all of us will have Christmas dinner together. Of course, we are all skipping dinner with my husband's extended family to do that. There's some irony in there somewhere...

VickiC said...

Last night we had our annual family Christmas party. We have been making little graham cracker "gingerbread" houses for over 30 years now, and it is as big a hit with the grandkids as it was with their parents.

My daughters decided that this year we should have an activity for the adults (ages 15 and up), and so now we have the Ugly Christmas Sweater Gift Exchange. Way more work than I wanted to do, and eventually a little expensive for something one's only required to wear once in public. (Even hitting Goodwill the attached garland, ornaments, etc push up the price.)
Still, it was a lot of fun to see how everyone personalized their items. I would have guessed almost every recipient based on how the sweaters had been decorated.

Grandma Cebe said...

I'm looking forward to the day when my children have developed their own family traditions and my husband and I can just show up for the festivities. Except for one, none have homes big enough for family events or show any interest in starting their own traditions beyond opening Christmas presents with their children. Plus, Kent is firmly entrenched with the idea that the only proper Christmas traditions are the ones we've had with the kids for the past 33 years. So this year because we are back in a house, I'm hosting Christmas FHE tree trimming, Christmas Eve, Christmas morning brunch and Christmas night supper. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

And what is it with you and fire?

Amanda Greer said...

I really enjoy reading about your first Christmas and the traditions you've created. I read Marta's blog, too and it's so wonderful to see how families celebrate holidays and everyday life!

Polly said...

i think Christmas should be a time for fun. we try to have a get together with the kids, but do it according to their schedules. parents with little ones have too many things going on to have added concerns of pleasing parents. it's up to the "old folks" to help out and go with the flow when planning holiday events.

Grandma Cebe said...

This post became relevant to my VT appointment last night. I VT a newlywed gal. When asked what she and her husband's Christmas plans were, she moaned "D wants to have Christmas here. I want to stay over at my parent's house." I told her about your blog and gave her the address. I also told her that she only has one chance to have a first Christmas with her husband.

ellen said...

People ask me every year if I'm going "home" for Christmas and I always reply, "this is home; I'm staying here." Even as a single gal I love staying home for Christmas and having my own traditions.

I had that same nativity as you (from my Primary days--I think). I wish I still had it.