With the kids scattering across the globe this year, I asked myself the question, “Is December 25th just a day on the calendar?”
Last fall I spent considerable time with a family in Ontario, Canada. They were one of the new traditional families; mom and dad were divorced and shared custody of two kids who travelled between houses to spend time with each parent. At Christmas however, the mom had custody.
Mom and kids would head north to her family’s home in Sudbury to be with the maternal grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins. “What about their dad?” I asked. “Doesn’t he see them at Christmas?” The kids enthusiastically explained their arrangement. Each year during Canadian Thanksgiving, the paternal grandparents rented a huge lodge and everyone from that side of the family would descend to celebrate Christmas. Yes… Christmas. In October! And those kids loved it. They’ve been doing this for so long now that it’s become a family tradition. Listening to the kids talk about this arrangement I realized what a beautiful gift their grandparents had engineered for everyone.
And why not move Christmas? It’s an arbitrary date anyway; not the actual date for the birth of Jesus. The more complicated my family life becomes, the better and better this mobile Christmas day idea seems to me.
You see, we’ve been dodging the Christmas bullet for years now. It started when our son headed to Japan for a university exchange year. We didn’t know if the Japanese academic calendar would include a Christmas break long enough to let him come home for the holidays. I steeled myself for a Christmas morning without him, but he made it. Little did I realize then that he would be living, working and then studying in Japan for the next four years. Each year at Christmas we held our breath. And each year he made it home. Even when he had to make a gruelling 14 hour flight for a fast five day visit. We learned to enter each holiday season with no expectations and our fingers crossed.
While our son was busy seven time zones away in Asia, our daughter was in Montreal, six time zones in the opposite direction. Initially she was a student at McGill. Since graduation she’s been working in Montreal as a Civil Engineer. Both kids have partners now and their partners have families who also want to see them at Christmas. This year even more so. On January 1st Puffin and her partner will be leaving their lives in Montreal and heading out on a one year outdoor adventure, crossing North America from side to side and top to bottom. They have to finish up their jobs, close up their flat, road-ready their van and pack all their gear for a January 1st departure. There was no way they could do all that and spend their Christmas with us in Holland.
And if that wasn’t enough of a stick-in-the-spokes to a family Christmas, our oldest is moving back to Asia. On January 4th he moves with his partner to Singapore. Since this will be the last time she’ll see her parents for at least a year, she really really needed to spend it with them in France.
So this year, we borrowed from my friend’s post-divorce tradition and simply moved Christmas.
It was easy. And now that it’s over I can report that it was truly wonderful! It felt so completely like Christmas that I’ve been doing double takes all day at the Sligro Santas, the TV adverts and the Schipol elves wondering why people are still selling Christmas when the holiday is so obviously over. Then I smile – wryly – because I remember that the rest of the world is still waiting and preparing for their Christmas. I’m so happy we shifted ours. December 25th is just a day on a calendar. The real Christmas happened when our kids were here and we celebrated together.