“I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love, even more than I usually do. And although I know it’s a long road back, I promise you, I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me.”
Did you know that Santa knows when kids have to travel to see their grandparents and cousins for Christmas, and so he comes early to those kids homes?! I know this fact because I was one of those kids he often visited early!
Growing up, we spent a lot of time in airports or cars on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day traveling to see our large, loud, and fun extended family a few states away. Flying on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day was often cheaper and meant less crowded airports and roads. A win-win for our family, which included both my parents and four of us kids.
By the time we showed up at my grandma’s house, most of the family had often arrived, filling the house with food, laughter, games, and anticipation. We took our bags straight to the rooms we’d be staying in, rooms that weren’t our own but were familiar to our Christmas traditions. We knew where the cookies and candy were stored (essentials for kids at Christmas!). And we knew we were in for as much fun as could be had in the few short days we had together with family.
When the last of us out-of-towners had arrived, the gifts from the family gift exchange could finally be opened. With one of our silly uncles playing the part of “Santa,” gifts would be tossed about the crowded living room to each of the cousins (twenty-two of us on one side and more than a dozen on the other side). I can’t remember all the gifts we received, but I will always remember the fun we had with each other in those days.
One year, one cousin got a Woody Doll that was the size of small person, and the boys proceeded to spend the day tossing it down my grandma’s grand staircase, just for the thrill of the sound and speed of it tumbling (multiple aunts and uncles only heard the sound and thought it was a child falling down the stairs). Then there were the girls, who took pride in creating a “Girls’ Cousins Club” in my grandfather’s old work room—no boys allowed, of course, for no particular reason. And the joy all of us kids felt at seeing our parents gathered around the dining room table, laughing, playing cards, and telling funny stories from their childhood.
Our parents made a big effort to travel during the Christmas season. Christmastime is stressful enough with the shopping, decorating, and cooking. It was commitment to add the expense of traveling, and coordinate the time to pack, travel, and so forth. It also sometimes meant giving up a quieter Christmas morning in our own homes.
But once we all settled into my grandmother’s house, the stress melted away and in its place came the reassurance that Christmas with all the family is fun! Through all those years, our cousins became some of our treasured friends and we could see our parents were good friends with each other, too.
Most importantly, we learned that you don’t get to choose who is in your family. But you can and should choose to love these people fiercely and joyfully.
We’re all older now, and we don’t gather with extended family as much as we used to. But we do all go home to our own respective parents’ houses for the holidays. (And thanks to social media, we keep in touch with cousins and aunts and uncles on holidays via Snapchat and picture texts!)
Going to my parents’ for Christmas means traveling for me, but I don’t give the stress or the coordinating of logistics a second thought these days.
You see, when I arrive at my parents’ house, I know they’ll be good food, presents waiting under the tree, and most importantly, my parents, siblings, and nieces filling the house with conversation, games, and laughter. We’ll stay up late into the night watching our favorite Christmas movies, enjoying Mom’s Christmas cookies, and laughing about our childhood memories.
We’ll reconnect on important and not so important life moments that have happened over the past few months. We’ll solidify that we are more than just family forced to tolerate each other, but friends, choosing to love each other. The feeling of home won’t come from the rooms we’ll stay in. The feeling of home will come from the relationships we’ll rest in—relationships we have had and will continue to have all our lives.
One day, Santa will have to deliver to my kids a little early, because we’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on it