Raise, raise a song on high


December 16, 2009 by 8junebugs

So. For the first time in my life, my holiday plans are entirely up to me.

Jesus, that’s scary. Realizing that no one else can tell you what to do is simultaneously the most freeing and freakishly frightening part of being an adult…or, well, of being me. Early 30s, employed, divorced grad student in a long-distance relationship who calls two states 3,000 miles apart “home.”

Christmas v1.0 was easy. My parents defined it…or their parents did. Mass on Christmas Eve followed by dinner at Memere and Pepere’s. Presents early Christmas morning on empty stomachs — there was no need to eat when Memere was making breakfast for a battalion down the road. After Memere’s breakfast, we’d go to Grandma and Grandpa’s and celebrate with that side. More presents. More food.

I’m sure, when we were little, naps were enforced. I wish we’d held on to that tradition.

There were Barbie dolls and porcelain dolls, and dangly earrings and cotton sweaters for the women. There were trucks for the boys and cans of pipe tobacco for Grandpa. For the years when we got sleds or ice skates, there was always a conveniently frozen pond and an adequately snowy hill. Every now and then, there was a car for someone who needed it, or a leather jacket for someone who wasn’t expecting it.

There was the year Amy gave her brother two hamsters, who eventually escaped. I assume their bodies were found in the walls when the schmancy architect renovated the “historic farmhouse” and moved all the rooms around.

The traditions around Christmas that still stick in my head most clearly are Memere’s. There would be no Baby Jesus in the creche until Christmas Day, and she stashed a little elf in a different place every year. Wherever he was, he could see everything we did.


Christmas v2.0 was further defined by the man I married. We promised to alternate Christmases — one with my family, one with his, and so on, until we had a kid and would stay home. But then there were more with his, in addition to Easters, Thanksgivings, birthdays, Memorial Days… I was seeing visions of Christmases Yet To Come, and, unlike ol’ Ebenezer, I didn’t have a Spirit telling me I could alter the future. I had a husband telling me that he would always want to spend holidays with his family, even though his parents didn’t mind sharing, even though that would mean traveling to New Jersey or Florida, even though that meant his family would always trump mine…and any family we built together. I looked ahead and saw that we would never build our own traditions.

I started dreading the holidays in ways I never had before, even though I did really like my in-laws quite a lot.

Anyway, where I came from, the grown-ups always tried to keep things fair — no matter how many packages KidBrother and I had under the tree, the end total spent on us was always pretty much the same. In the extended family, Amy and I were often instructed to open certain packages at the same time so the surprise of a similar or identical gift wouldn’t be spoiled…which was a different but related kind of “equal.”

There were years when some of us couldn’t afford anything, so we made stuff instead or pulled something together from the dollar store. Some of my favorite gifts were the beautifully painted craft box full of tootsie rolls, the handknit purple and white scarf, and the gift basket that held mugs, dish towels, and a perfect metal snowflake ornament. One year, nearly everyone got handknit socks from me — I had more yarn than money.

“Fair” and “equal” meant something different when I was married. Somehow, my ex’s family (or my ex, on their behalf) would determine how much was the “right” amount for the siblings to spend on each other, and to spend on parents. That would then be applied to my family, as well. This felt unfair for four main reasons:

1. The amounts had to be equal even if one sibling was unemployed and another was making six figures.

2. Handmade gifts were a totally new thing and didn’t factor into the value, except to be somehow “extra.”

3. There was a significant difference in the size and needs of our two families. His family didn’t need much. As time went on, I was in a place to make Christmas nicer for my family during hard times, but I was restricted. (Sometimes I did it anyway.)

4. It put money at the center of everything. Instead of being about love and family and giving, it felt more like a rigidly controlled exchange of value. This went entirely against the way that I’d been raised.

Strangely, the part of Christmas that felt the least about money was…money. Every year, my ex-father-in-law split his bonus up and gave checks out to all the kids. It was an incredibly generous thing to do and it was generally unregulated…unless my ex-mother-in-law said that someone should get a little less because their gifts cost a little more.


Christmas v3.0 is a work in progress.

Originally, my plan was to Do Something Completely Different. At the top of the list of possibilities was an all-inclusive resort someplace well south of here. Someplace that would not require me to drive, not even to the airport. Someplace with a coastline and a hammock and a hot tub. And rum.

Plan B was developed and decided on out of obligation, and I was okay with that. I thought I’d drive up to Vermont and spend some time with Memere and the rest of the family…but mostly Memere. I planned to drive up Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (the only time I’m willing to take the New Jersey Turnpike is Christmas Day — I’ve made it from Bergen County to Middlebury in less than four hours on Christmas Day, and that was with the slower driver at the wheel), spend a couple of days, drive back, and then fly out to spend New Year’s Eve with G, his puppy, and his folks.

Tied to the trip, though, is the need to finalize remaining estate business and close the estate account. Thanks to the Vermont Department of Taxes, that’s not going to be possible for another couple of weeks. Communication with my attorney has been a bit limited — sadly, he’s now in the same boat KidBrother and I were in last year…watching cancer kill a parent.

Anyway, if I can’t do that over Christmas, I’ll need to go up and do it later, and two trips is more than I can do. Plus, with the travel and uncertainty about where to be and when, I was starting to dread Christmas again…which is what I’ve been trying to remedy all along.

It also bugged me more than I expected that the travel plans would prevent me from getting to Mass on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I’m not all that pious, but I am Catholic, and we go on Christmas.

So Christmas v3.0 looks like this:

  • I’m staying put. I will, for only the second time since I was 14, wake up in my own bed on Christmas morning. (That other time was the only Christmas we spent in California because we couldn’t afford to go back to Vermont. Which was unpleasant.)
  • I’ll celebrate the feast days with close friends. It means being the only non-pregnant female at the party, but I’M GETTING USED TO THAT.
  • I’ll see Dad on his way through to Vermont. He’ll be here this Saturday night, and then he’ll head up to see KidBrother in New York (way, way up in New York) before crossing over into Vermont.
  • I’ll save the vacation time for later — specifically, for a long weekend in late January, when I can fly up and back using vouchers I can’t use during the holidays and do everything I want and need to do in Middlebury. (And Vergennes — an oldoldold friend has a chocolate shop I need to check out!)
  • Naps!

I sent my memere a Christmas centerpiece, which arrived yesterday. This was doubly meaningful to me — for years, Mom gave Memere her Christmas centerpiece. I’m not worried about Memere being alone on Christmas…did I mention my family is huge and devoted? And when I go up in a month(ish), I won’t be taking turns.

As for next year…well, I’ve got 12 whole months to figure that one out.


2 thoughts on “Raise, raise a song on high

  1. Amy says:

    Hi Jen –
    Your version of Christmas sounds wonderful. 🙂 I must say, I”m loving our new location which means no Christmas airplane trips. More time for naps. 🙂
    Merry, merry Christmas to you.

    • 8junebugs says:

      I’m also a fan of your new location, Amy. 🙂

      Merry Christmas to you and Kath! (Dad should be leaving something at Memere’s for all of you–more of a wedding memento than a Christmas gift. Let me know if you don’t see it there…)

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