Before Elle, the holidays were all about, well, whatever we wanted the holidays to be about. The Christmas Eve to New Year’s stretch wasn’t much different, really, from the rest of our winter: Work, skiing, followed by usually raucous gatherings with friends with the champagne, in place of Budweiser, designating it a “special” occasion.
There was no Christmas tree; we didn’t risk life and limb hanging twinkling lights from every eave, and I felt no inclination to dress the mantel with fragrant garland that would only make me sneeze.
We were our own little floating nucleus during the holidays, bumping around from one Christmas party to the next until we awoke in the boozy dawn of New Year’s Day, at which point our carousing was allowed a respite until Fat Tuesday.
Now, with a 2-year-old in tow, the holidays brim with those classic Christmas ingredients – trees and lights and stockings – but the most substantial shift from the carefree, childless holidays of yore to the holidays of today comes from our newfound sense of duty: We are an actual family now, not just two merrymaking souls floating through the holidays like a pair of happily astray turtledoves. As an actual family, we must initiate traditions and follow the rituals passed down to us by our own parents.
For example: I hid presents. I baked cookies for Santa. I sang Christmas carols. I actually braved the pre-holiday Wal-Mart hell to purchase a baby doll that comes with its own flushable potty. (OK, I know I said I was anti-gift, but what could I do? Playing shopping cart derby in the baby doll aisle seemed easier than explaining the evils of consumerism to my toddler. Oh, how parenthood changes you.)
Neck-deep in wrapping paper and family chaos (did I mention 15 members of our family were here for Christmas? I didn’t? Perhaps my subconscious has tried to block that out already…) I felt a yearning for the simple, duty-less holidays of pre-parenthood in a ski town. You know, the times when all you had to do on Christmas morning was put on your ski boots? At the most, maybe fight off a hangover with a latté and croissant on the way to the lifts? Call the family from the bathroom at Guiseppi’s? Show up late to someone else’s house for dinner, because cocktail hour at the last place ran a little long, and drink as many glasses of wine as you wanted (because Mom wasn’t there, keeping track?)
Before kids and the dawn of the family holiday, you didn’t worry that there were no rolls to have alongside the Christmas dinner ham, or that the kids would turn their noses up at the homemade cranberry sauce, demanding the jellified log instead. You didn’t wade thigh-deep in snow to try, for the fifth time, to get that tree out back to light up (because you spent hours stringing the stupid thing with expensive LED lights, and it’s GOING to work, damn it!) And you definitely needn’t stress about emotions running high as the various branches of your dependably dysfunctional family tree started banging against the windows of your home as the winds of holiday drama started howling.
Nope. No kids meant, usually, that no family would care to bug you over the holidays. No traditions. No duties. No plans. Just ski town life as usual, with the added bonus of living it through champagne-tinted goggles.
Most of the family has, now, returned to their various corners of the country and Craig and Elle and I are left with little more than a fading Christmas tree and an empty house. Sitting in the quiet of the home that just days ago could have been a scene from the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I feel relieved. Yet the relief, I realize, is not simply an effect of the family’s recent absence and the ensuing return to “normal” life, but rather, that we did it.
We (successfully?) hosted our first family Christmas. We brought more to this year’s Christmas dinner table than just a bottle of booze. We brought a 2-year-old, who is just awakening to what the holidays are all about. And what the holidays are all about, for a new family like ours, is spending time with grandmas, grandpas, aunties, uncles, cousins, and whoever and whatever else the cat drags in. The holidays are no longer the same for us, since family, and all the comedy and tragedy that go along with putting more than a dozen related people in the same place for an entire week, must now take center stage. Gone are the days of floating freeform for the holidays, in place of showing our daughter the messy beauty of family and tradition. And that’s a good thing… especially since we can still return to our “normal” ski town life (work, skiing, skiing, work) after they’ve all returned home.