The holidays always come with certain expectations, either from or of you. We idealize and romanticize them, with the help of film, television and retail industries, and we hope each year that they live up to what we’ve imagined them to be.
This year, though, the holidays were obviously very different. Because of COVID, I didn’t get to experience any of the Christmas traditions my family has created over the years. I was lucky enough to be with people I love this year, but I didn’t know what to expect of a Christmas without my family.
Every single Christmas for the past 23 years, I’ve either woken up at my parents’ house or gotten there early in the morning to do family Christmas and make breakfast. After breakfast and gifts, we’d get ready for the day (at like 1 or 2 PM) and then go to my grandmother’s for dinner and gifts. When I was younger, I’d stay the night at my grandma’s with my little brothers. We had similar traditions for Christmas Eve. We’d have our big family Christmas then, and it was often the only day of the year we got to see everyone at the same time.
None of that happened this year. I didn’t see my parents and brothers on Christmas Day. I didn’t get to sing “we whisk you a merry whiskmas” while whisking eggs with my dad. I didn’t get to see my grandmother, who now lives alone and whose favorite holiday is Christmas. I didn’t get to see my young cousins and my aunts and uncles and grandparents on Christmas Eve. And, of course, it was strange and much more difficult than I expected.
I do count myself lucky, though. I was able to spend Christmas with my boyfriend and his family, who I love and I know loves me. I was also able to FaceTime with my family on Christmas Day and see them (masked and social-distanced) on Christmas Eve.
While this year was, of course, difficult and different from the way I’ve celebrated the holidays in the past, I think it taught me a valuable lesson about gratitude. I realized that, for my whole life, I’ve taken Christmas for granted. Even when I intentionally tried not to care about gifts or material objects and focus on just being with the people I love and who love me, I still had an expectation that I deserved everything on my wish list and more. I always wanted that big surprise gift on Christmas morning, and if I didn’t get what I wanted, I’d pout and be disappointed. Usually whatever I wanted was fairly meaningless, too. I’d get so caught up in the Hallmark version of Christmas, though, that I never realized what was most important on that day.
Looking back, my favorite memories of Christmas revolve around just being with the people I love. Spending quality time with my family and loved ones was always what really mattered, and this year proved that.
I went into this Christmas with no idea what to expect, knowing it would be unusual, and I wound up having a wonderful couple of days. When I saw my parents and brothers on Christmas Eve, we laughed and played games and reminisced. When I spent the day with my boyfriend and his family on Christmas Day, we did the same thing. It felt so low pressure and almost freeing to be able to just enjoy the day with no expectations. It was the most laidback holiday I’ve ever experienced, and it made me so grateful to have people in my life who make me happy by their presence, not presents, alone.
I know I’m lucky to have been able to spend time with loved ones this holiday, and I know not everyone was able to do that this year. Having this new perspective on Christmas makes me that much more grateful for all that I’ve been given, and I hope to carry that into years to come.
Stay safe. Stay healthy + Happy Holidays.