I love the Christmas season. The lights and carols and decorations. Everything smelling of pine and cinnamon and cranberry. All the cookie baking and the homemade Chex Mix warm from the oven. Our tree and the memories and stories behind every ornament. I love it all. Especially dear to me are all the traditions we have built over the years.
One of the more difficult aspects of a divorce is that holiday traditions have to shift and adjust. Last year, when the divorce was still new and I had just moved to a new place, we worked hard to try to maintain all the same traditions. I went to my ex-husband’s house (which had been our family home) for the gingerbread house competition and for Christmas morning gift-opening. But a year has gone by and things have changed, and we all agreed that would be more awkward than festive this year. So we had to come to agreements about what traditions would happen at each house and which traditions would fade to happy memories.
I’ll be honest with you — because my tendency is to over-think and to feel all the emotions to the full, there were moments of grief or sadness during this holiday season. When your kids are at their dad’s doing the really fun gingerbread house contest you initially planned years ago, there’s some serious FOMO. The kids did some baking at each house this year, but some of our traditional baking just didn’t get done. We didn’t drive around looking at Christmas lights — that is an activity the kids seem to have outgrown. We did exactly half the nightly advent readings together – the weeks the boys were at my house. And you know, with the girls away at college, even those nights weren’t the same as they have been in the past.
Even without a divorce thrown into the mix, life’s circumstances change. Children grow up. Interests shift. Traditions must be held with a loose grasp, allowing room for modifications or releasing them altogether to the past. I learned this year that it’s OK to feel sadness at letting go of those things. Change can be hard, even when it’s good. Throughout the holiday season, I gave myself permission to feel all the feelings — the sweet, content, warm ones and the sad, nostalgic, melancholy ones and the excited, joyful, filled-to-the-brim-with-love ones.
And you know what – letting go of some traditions gave space to create new traditions and new memories. On the night we decorated our tree (when the girls were home for Thanksgiving break), we included the man I have been dating and my dear longtime friend, Julie, and we made a giant breakfast-for-dinner meal. That’s a tradition I hope we can keep! Because bacon! On Christmas Day, the man I’ve been dating (boyfriend seems like an odd word to use for a grown man, but manfriend sounds weird. We need to come up with a better term.) – anyway, he invited us to his family’s Christmas dinner. And after many years of quiet Christmas Days at home with only our immediate family, a crowded, loud, full, family Christmas dinner reminded me of all the Christmases of my growing-up years. And in spite of all the changes – and because of all the changes – it ended up being one of my happiest Christmases ever. (Though the year of the Barbie Dream House will probably forever hold the top spot. Thank you, Santa!)
Change can be complicated and exhausting and beautiful and exhilarating. And it can be all those things at exactly the same moment. The holidays have always been a challenge for me because of my tendency to create these expectations of the perfect family holiday. In some ways, the divorce (and – to be honest – being 45) has freed me from the trap of those expectations. There is freedom in letting go and enjoying what is. Even with the moments of sadness and the fleeting fear of missing out, I was able to mostly let go of expectations and the shoulds and enjoy the moments of joy.
That’s progress, Friends. And I’ll take it as we settle into 2018.