Redefining Family The Night Before Christmas

This is the first Christmas Eve spent with just me and my dude. It’s stirring lots of thoughts and feelings, because everything stirs lots of thoughts and feelings in me. Yes, it’s the first year we’ll spend as a couple entwined by the bonds of paperwork, but honestly the Mrs. label doesn’t feel that different. It’s that we’re celebrating an evening traditionally reserved for family as just us two.

For me, Christmases of single years past meant packing as much family into three days as humanly possible. All in an effort to stave off the lonely. Most often I would arrive at my childhood home on Christmas Eve and stay through the evening of the 26th. Even in the past couple years, I would opt for additional gift openings—outside of the mandated 48 hours—with my parents while my boyfriend, then fiancee, now husband would do his own thing.

Now, we’re building something just us two. A family all our own (No, I’m not pregnant, stop asking, Mom.) I’ll always have my family of origin, my parents will always love me unconditionally, my brothers will always know my roots better than anyone I’ll ever meet, even my extended familials will always be a part of the life I’m building with the Mr. But, now that I actually have somewhere to cleave, I’m understanding how the nuclear family changes in the process.

It can be bittersweet and even a little painful for both of the splitting nuclei. At the onset of this holiday season, I had a conversation with my mom about balancing the various festivities. She suggested eschewing her side’s Christmas Eve dinner for an evening spent at her home. The thought was that now that her kids were having kids, it would cut down on travel time for the weest ones. I suggested that an afternoon event might be nice, because perhaps my brothers would want to spend the sacred night with their nuclear families. It seems my mom misunderstood the changing definition of “nuclear” as she quickly noted that she was trying to offer exactly that opportunity by hosting. I didn’t correct her thought, because it’s Christmas and who wants to remind their mother about her empty nest on Christmas. Still, it’s a realization she may have to come to sooner or later.

Of course, my brothers and I will want to spend the holidays basking in the warmth of parents who have loved us for decades, but we will also want to build traditions of our own. This year I look forward to cuddling with the Mr. as he lavishes gifts and intricate Christmas cocktails upon me. I want to watch his puzzled looks as he unpacks his stocking on Christmas morning, trying to figure out why the hell I got him a coloring book and chocolate-covered meat. I’ll cherish the shared cranberry mimosa tradition I anticipate we’ll implement in an effort to take the edge off of invasive inquiries to come.

When I finally do decide to ruin my already diminishing figure and budget with a rugrat or two, I’m sure I’ll want to tuck them into their own beds with promises of Santa. And, on Christmas morning, I’ll want to see their faces fall when they realize, once again, that Santa doesn’t love them enough to get them their own room because their parents think they’re too cool for the suburbs. Ahhh Christmas magic.

The point is, that, while in the most ideal of cases, family is a solid, stalwart foundation established on unconditional, unchanging love, it must also leave room to morph and grow. It’s the only way family can carry on generation after generation. Just don’t forget that Grandma still gives the best gifts.