It’s the first Christmas in the new house–the house we bought this past summer, next door to the old house. The old tree is up in the new living room. It’s not stuck in a corner here, but claims a place of honor right next to the staircase, in the middle of the house, and gets to wear more of its ornaments this year. The cheerfully wrapped packages wait under it for Christmas morning to arrive. We wait for our children to arrive on Christmas morning.
For Paul and me, the best Christmas gift will be having all of our children with us, together, under our new roof. It won’t happen until Christmas Day, and it won’t last nearly long enough.
This is my twelfth Christmas in California, and my son, Chris, has chosen to spend all but two of them out here with me. He was almost eighteen when his father and I divorced, so custody issues and the related holiday schedules were never really an issue; he’s always been able to make his own decision about where to spend Christmas. I’ve never taken for granted that he’ll spend it here–partly because this isn’t “coming home” for him, and partly because I’m waiting for the year that the “other” family he might spend the holiday with won’t be his dad’s back in Memphis, but a girlfriend’s…and eventually, his wife’s, and someday, their own. However, that year isn’t this year. Assuming that Washington, D.C. isn’t snowed in on December 23, we’ll have him here with us from Christmas Eve through Boxing Day.
This is my ninth Christmas with Paul, and since his children are younger than mine, holiday schedules have been very much an issue. They alternate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day between their parents each year. This is a Christmas Day year for us, and that will be the first time we see his daughter, Kate, since she left for college in New Hampshire back in August. We moved into this new house the week after she moved across the country, so she’s never lived with us here, and her old room at her mother’s house is now being occupied by her brother Spencer–in a way, this isn’t “coming home” for her, either, any more. But since our kids are coming to us, we feel like it’s a homecoming.
Thanks to our Italian heritage, my side of the family gives just as much weight to Christmas Eve celebrations as most do to Christmas Day. We would have a special late dinner, then go to midnight Mass, and each of us would open just one gift after we got home from church. Midnight Mass isn’t part of the tradition any more; I haven’t attended Mass more than half a dozen times since moving out here, and all I really miss is the singing, but the rest of my family of origin will be there on Christmas Day in the morning.
The special dinner, however, remains fully in effect. On Christmas Eve, we’ll gather at my sister Teresa’s house–Paul’s kids won’t be there this year, but mine will, and so will hers, of course. Teresa and her husband Mike will do most of the cooking, but I’ll probably be asked to bring my roasted potatoes as a side dish–my dad tells me he waits all year for those. My ten-year-old nephew Joey has been taking piano lessons, and I’ve heard that he’ll give us a little musical entertainment during the evening. Between dinner and dessert, there will be gifts to open–each of us will have one, and the younger ones among us will have quite a few more than one.
I love Christmas Eve with my relatives, but in the years that Kate and Spencer are with us on that night, it almost feels like Christmas Day itself doesn’t matter so much–we don’t linger over unwrapping gifts because they need to get back to their mother’s house, and since Spencer’s been eating gluten-free for over a year, we don’t have the customary Christmas morning cinnamon rolls any more.
This year, Christmas morning may get a late start, because even if my stepchildren don’t linger over unwrapping gifts at their mother’s, it’s still a good half-hour drive between there and here. The packages will wait a little longer, but the kids are older and the waiting’s not as difficult as it once was, even without cinnamon rolls. And Paul and I have been waiting for months to have them all together, in our home, on this day–we’ll manage these last few hours.
I’ve struggled to feel the “Christmas spirit,” whatever that’s supposed to feel like, for the last couple of years. This year, it’s seemed to come more easily, fueled by the anticipation of having our family together in a home that’s truly ours.
This is the final piece I wrote for my online Writers’ Workshop, in response to the prompt “‘Twas night before Christmas and all through the house–what?”
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