Follow me on the crazy, hopeful, discouraging, funny, and ultimately successful (one way or another) path to parenthood while facing infertility.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holiday Traditions, Without Kids

Christmas is hard for a lot of people -- people going through infertility, people in the adoption wait, people who wanted kids but are now childfree not by choice, people who haven't found that special someone yet, people who have lost a love or a mom or a dad or a child or someone else important in their lives. It's a holiday that's all about families and togetherness and celebrating a miracle baby, and so when you are missing any of those things it can be hard.

There's the whole "Christmas is best through the eyes of a child" thing that you see in commercials and the internet and, well, everywhere -- the onslaught of children on Santa's lap (I love the crying ones, they have good survival instincts: why on earth do we teach kids about stranger danger and then purposely put them on some hairy man's lap and then tell them not to cry? MAKES NO SENSE), of Elf on the Shelf shenanigans (oh how I hope we get away with never having one of those), of the now ubiquitous videos of children running down the stairs to see what magic Santa's left for them.

On the last day of school before break one of my students asked, "So, when you grow up, isn't Christmas sucky, because you have to buy everything for your kids and it's not fun for you anymore?" And I may have initially said, "I don't know, I WOULDN'T KNOW WHAT THAT'S LIKE, we DON'T HAVE CHILDREN" (because the night before was sobby A Christmas Story Night and I was still a bit raw and oozy). But I recovered as my wonderful Teacher's Assistant said how she's actually sad this is the first Christmas she's all by herself without people to tend to: her kids all grown and out of the house and her husband working as a sheriff in the morning. I agreed with her that when you get older you enjoy giving more than receiving because you start to feel like you don't need more stuff and it's fun to find that amazing gift for someone you care about, and added that socks and PJs suck when you're a kid but man, they are the BEST when you're an adult. The cozier the better. Throw some books in and you've got a great pile o'presents. I think I managed not to take my grief out on my student who was just asking a question about Adult Christmas, but just barely.

I was really thinking on what Christmas is like when you don't have kids after reading Different Shore's post about not feeling the Christmas spirit as an adult without children. Is it just not the same holiday? Should it just get canned since it's so commercially child-centric? I don't think so. Because I love Christmas, but I've never had the joy of having children to experience it with. I'd argue though that we do the SHIT out of Christmas, without children, and we have a blast doing it. We're like kids, but ones that can have wine and Christmas cocktails.

We have our own holiday traditions that bring the joy of the holiday to us, as is. If we are lucky enough to have a child for future Christmases, they will just get thrown in with our already-cemented traditions and a few new ones.

Here is how we do Christmas up, sans children: 
1) Christmas Tunes. The Christmas music comes on MIDNIGHT on Thanksgiving. Not a moment before. And then it has to include the following albums: Elvis's If Every Day Was Like Christmas; Kenny & Dolly's Once Upon A Christmas (With "I'll Be Home With Bells On on heavy repeat); John Denver & The Muppet's A Christmas Together; Annie Lennox's A Christmas Cornucopia; A Windham Hill Holiday Guitar Collection; Leon Redbone's Christmas Island;  Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas, Bing Crosby's White Christmas; The Carpenter's Christmas Portrait; How The Grinch Stole Christmas; Harry Connick Jr.'s When My Heart Finds Christmas; Amy Grant's A Christmas Album; and the deliciously campy Martinis and Mistletoe by the Yuletide Lounge Band, Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper...there are more but these are non-negotiable. And they don't stop until January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas, when Bryce is safe until next Thanksgiving at midnight. (I'm sure the countdown has begun.)

2) A New Countdown. We got an advent calendar of sorts this year, a Woodland Critters Christmas Countdown. It's amazing. December 1st is a lasercut wood tree you put together, and then every window in the flat cardboard boxes is a different lasercut and burned critter -- rabbits, owls, a hedgehog, a funny little raccoon, a fancy squirrel, a bear -- 22 critters until the 24th when a glittery star is the last thing for the tree. It's awesome. I'm sure it's great with kids, but man did I enjoy trading days with Bryce to open each critter and guess what it was based on the size of the door. The cat likes to knock them down, so there's a little earthquake that flattens the critters every once in a while, but they're not really breakable so it's okay.
The complete set, and a snowman that looks like the Staypuft Marshmallow Man come to stomp on everyone.

3) Festive Mantel. We don't always have a tree, because sometimes we spirit ourselves away for a romantic vacation in Vermont for Christmas, but we always do up the mantel with evergreens (fake) and mercury glass candles and our stockings and a sad plastic stocking for the cats that has the same catnip mice in it it's had for five years. The cards go on the built-ins Bryce made a few years ago, but this year we had a glut of wonderful holiday greetings and so had to stick them in the (fake) evergreens, too. If you can see up close, there's a little red cardinal to the right in the (fake) evergreen branches, which is a nod to my best friend's grandma. I got her one, too -- it's a nice memory of the (insanely huge number) of little red cardinals that were sprinkled all over her grandma's house at Christmastime.

4) Profane Decorations. If you didn't see it the first time, we always put the same card from YEARS ago in the center of our mantel, under the gold glass candelholder ball, from friends who share our sense of humor. Here's a closeup for your viewing pleasure, because it's just too good not to share. Also, we have two of them (two years in a row deserved that card) so if one goes up in smoke or something we have a backup.
Can you read it? "Happy F*cking Holidays." So perfect: festive AND deliciously inappropriate. 

5) Christmas Cat. 
This one gets image first, because it's...terrifying. Festive and old-fashioned and really, really creepy. I can imagine it taking life after midnight and crawling all stop-motion up the stairs. Even though it scares me, it goes out every year (obviously this is from a pre-me Bryce era). Actually, when we were in Vermont one of the front desk guys who is from Iceland told me all about the Christmas Cat -- sounds cute, but is actually an Icelandic legend that ensures you get clothes for Christmas. Because if you don't, he eats you. Maybe this could be our Elf on the Shelf -- Christmas Cat on the Mat. Maybe.

6) Travel Tree. When we escape to Vermont for a romantic holiday, we bring this little fake bottle-brush tree with us, along with tiny mercury glass ornaments we bought both locally and at the Northshire Book Store in Manchester, Vermont a few years ago. It makes it feel like we've decorated the room for ourselves, even though there are full-sized Christmas trees everywhere in the Vermont inn where we stay.

7) Christmas Eve Peek. In my family growing up, we got to open one present Christmas Eve, when we got back from Midnight Mass. I have instituted this for us, even though Bryce thinks it's clearly cheating. One present, preferably a small one, on Christmas Eve.

8) Stockings, then Breakfast. If we're NOT traveling for the holiday, there's an order of things that I'm pretty rigid about (go figure). I make a crazy citrus salad (segmented, supremed pink grapefruit, clementines, Cara Cara navel oranges, etc.) and we can have that while we open our stockings. Then, we have a big Christmas breakfast and open presents after. It stretches things out.

9) One at a Time. Speaking of stretching it out, we each pick a present for the other to open, and then we each open it at the same time. We can't open the next present until the first one has been thoroughly admired. It goes on like this for HOURS, not because we have a zillion presents as much as because we like to give each one its due and really appreciate how fortunate we are. It drives people crazy though, because out of town family will call and we aren't even remotely done with presents and likely haven't opened theirs yet. I'm sure should we be so lucky to have a kid one day, that they are going to LOVE this tradition. (It will build patience and appreciation in a time of immediacy and expendability, right? RIGHT? They'll love us for it later?)

10) Bryce's Book Selections. For several years now, Bryce has made it a challenge to pick out a handful of books for me for Christmas. He doesn't use my wishlist or the Keep list I have of titles I want to read...he just looks at what I have read and looks at lists of acclaimed books in genres I like and then runs with it. Sometimes there's a theme -- last Christmas all the books had red in the cover somewhere, totally by accident, but then for my birthday they all had birds or ravens in them. This year there were some interesting picks, one I'd read before (but loved and would read again) and some I'd never have found myself but love already.
This year's picks. I had just finished the second Raven Boys title when I opened the third (Blue Lily, Lily Blue), and I'd already read The Virgin Suicides and he was horrified it came as a movie cover (I HATE movie covers) but it was funny and I didn't mind...The Principles of Uncertainty is amazing and I've read it already and will probably reread it a zillion times, I'm looking forward to Mosquitoland, and Thrillplex Theater looks....interesting but I'll bite. 

11) Weird Gift Tags. I don't know exactly when this started, but originally we would give each other presents and one or two would be from one or both cats. Then we got creative. This year, I received presents from: Lucky (my cat), The Practical One, The Relaxed One, Neil DeGrasse Tyson; The Weird Risky One (Thrillplex Theater was in that bag); FinFet; EigenValue; Captain Obvious (that was Fannie May chocolates that came in a box that said FANNIE MAY CHOCOLATES all over it, real subtle packaging for gifts); Hot Stuff (my new oven gloves); and Mr. Creepy, who gave me no joke the creepiest picture book EVER:
The story itself isn't creepy, zero children are murdered by this train...but apparently the train and MidWorld come from Stephen King's Dark Tower, so it has dubious origins as a children's story. I see this train in my nightmares...
Bryce got presents from me, but also some from Polaris, The Woodland Critters, Photons, and Your Brain Cells. Mine weren't nearly as good as his were this year.


There, a zillion (okay, eleven) Christmas traditions that have nothing to do with kids whatsoever. Yes, even the picture books -- I've been collecting those since my early 20s when I worked for a publisher. They are beautiful, and while I hope I'll share them with our future child (although maybe not that horrifying train one), I get enjoyment out of them, myself, now.

I hope the holidays were kind to you, no matter why it might be a tough time. I hope you have your own interesting traditions to make the holiday yours, today, the way things are in this present moment. It sure makes it fun for us to have these little things to look forward to in a time that can be a bit melancholy.

Cheers from us to you!

Another tradition, although not so much a Christmas one -- a champagne toast when we settle into our room at the inn. I love this picture for our faces -- adoring and silly all at once, and ready for our own holiday celebrations, as a family of two.

PS -- Here's "I'll Be Home With Bells On," in case you don't know it... Good luck getting it out of your head! My gift from me to you!


18 comments:

  1. Those are awesome traditions! I'm really impressed. So far ours vary a lot depending on how much time we have each year. I'm with you on the drawn out present unwrapping: my family is definitely like this.

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    1. Thank you! I love drawing things like that out. Who doesn't need more joy and appreciation?

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  2. Love it! We have similar present-opening rituals to you too!

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    1. Oh good! It makes me feel happy when presents are given their due. They were picked out and wrapped and everything, so giving them time before moving to the next seems just...right. :)

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  3. I'm coming to your house next Christmas! :D

    Seriously, this is an awesome way to celebrate the holiday. I especially love the weird gift tags idea - I may have to adopt this (if I can remember next year - LOL)! Belated Christmas wishes, and bright blessings to you in the coming year!

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    1. Thank you! Oh, weird gift tags...they really spice things up. Bright blessings to you as well!

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  4. I love your adaptability -- especially #4, hehe.

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    1. #4 is my not-so-secret favorite. It brings me subversive joy every time I put it out. :)

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  5. I just found your blog and love your energy and attitude and overall adorableness. I am cheering you on from California!

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    1. Thank you so much, welcome to my nutty space... I appreciate the cheers!

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  6. The one at a time present is a great idea. Also I agree that cozy pjs, socks and books are a great present these days! My sister also got me an xmas sweater dress, super comfy to wear around the house.

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    1. Oooh, that does sound cozy. Sweater dresses and I are not friends, because I am a bit bulgy about the midsection and they are like sequins...they show EVERYTHING. But I could totally see how that would feel amazing! I have a super cozy sleep cardigan I was gifted a few years ago by my MIL, and that is a sweater I could wear around the house all day. And also I've worn it to school before as it isn't obviously sleep-related... Ahhhh. Coziness is highly underrated.

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  7. We do a lot of the same things. :) Not quite to the same extent as you do, maybe ;) but enough to make Christmas feel special. And to those who say "Christmas is for kids!" & the like, a big BAH HUMBUG. :p ;) Christmas is for EVERYONE.

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    1. Oh good! We started some of our sillier traditions after realizing getting a child in our house was going to be ridiculously difficult, and it helps us feel less bitter for sure. I also love that we hide Easter baskets from each other, but they have things like cheesy movies or colorful pens or crazy socks in them (and a little candy of course). You have to find your joy in the little things, right? Sometimes it's harder to find the joy in the mess, but it's there. :)

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  8. Hello Jess I am catching up after a PC-free Christmas and New Year! I love your holiday activities, especially Bryce's Book Selections - sweet. Yeah, Christmas.. after writing that piece I thought maybe I'd get it out of my system and catch some festive spirit, but it got worse. I generally try to make a biggish thing of Christmas. I like the build-up. By Halloween I'm already itching to play a bit of Christmassy music, and during November I'm fully in the mood. But December sucks the life out of it for me, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was lacklustre simply because me and the hub went our separate ways this year (to our respective families in different countries). I just wasn't feeling it and all the excess bewildered me a bit.
    In my heart I certainly don't believe that Christmas is only for children (ungrateful little f****s at the best of times!!). Adults can do it just as well. But I suppose it just needs some thinking and planning and you really do need to be with your SO.
    Ugh I haven't seen any of those kids-running-downstairs videos - horrible trend. But that's because I have everyone with kids on hide on FB...

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  9. These traditions look like so much fun! We also have done the stockings-breakfast-presents order of things for quite a while. Definitely stretches out the opening and fun, which is nice. The gift tags idea is marvelous, and your woodland advent creatures are beautiful.

    I've never understood how people can think Christmas is "just" for kids - I mean, a day off, the chance to hang out with family or take a low-key day, have great food - these things are ageless, I think.

    And that train book - gaahhh! That is a totally creepy book cover!

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  10. We are the same with the Christmas music!! I'm always sad to see it go.
    Christmas Cat is creepy! And what a story...you get clothes for Christmas or eaten by the cat?!?! I have never heard that but that's awful frightening!!

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