Holiday at home brings doubts

December 25, 2007|By SUSAN REIMER

Christmas morning finds me, as the song suggests, where the lovelight gleams. I am home for Christmas, and I am not dreaming.

Faithful readers know that for all of my adult life, I have returned to Pittsburgh to spend Christmas with my family and my husband's family.

My children -- and both made the trip in utero -- have never gone to sleep in their own beds on Christmas Eve and wakened Christmas morning to see what Santa had left beneath their tree. It has always been Grandma's tree.

This is OK, especially for the kids. All those relatives means lots more presents. And for years, they were sure Pittsburgh was Santa's only stop.

We've made that trip, with a van full of packages, through some of the worst weather and some of the worst traffic in the history of holiday travel. There were times when I thought our little family would not be found until spring.

But my husband would turn the dial to a Christmas carol radio station, and the children would snuggle under the afghan their grandmother had crocheted for them. The Christmas lights along the highway would blur into ribbons of color as their eyes closed in sleep.

This year, the calendar required us to make a different choice. With Christmas Day on a Tuesday, it was easier for my family and my husband's family to plan gatherings for the weekend before. Christmas Eve found us on the highway again -- but driving in the opposite direction this time.

Joe and Jessie are now 23 and 21, but they still grumbled about the change. The trade-off of having Christmas among their friends was not much of a selling point. If Grandma were still alive, they argue quite correctly, we'd never get away with this.

I wanted to scold them, but I didn't. What about me, I wanted to howl? I am 50-something, I am spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in my own home for the first time in my adult life, and I have no idea what to do.

For years, there have been holiday gatherings in my neighborhood on Christmas Eve, but we've never been able to go to any of them. Are we off the invitation list after 25 years of regrets?

What do I cook on Christmas Eve? Pasta? Fish? Or do I steal a page from Grandma and make a ham?

Do we eat after 4 p.m. Mass or after midnight Mass? Which one do we go to, and whom do we sit with if not Grandma and her friend Mary Ellen, or my brother-in-law's family, with squirmy Rudy in the pew and Kacey and Shannon looking so holy lighting candles on the altar?

And what about Christmas morning?

Should we leave some presents under the tree for the kids to open, big as they are? Will they wake up early or sleep until noon since there will be no bouncy nieces and nephews to wake them with their excited arrival? Will they leave us all alone and spend the day with their friends?

Do I make an elaborate brunch, even though we've always existed on Christmas cookies until Grandma served Christmas dinner at 3 p.m.? Or do I make some kind of standing rib roast for dinner at 6?

Do I make a figgy pudding?

I am very big on traditions, and I haven't got a single one for this occasion. How can I make the holiday seem real and sacred if I am making it up from scratch?

I know there are those among you whose Christmases have been blasted to bits by tragedy or loss and who have found a way -- perhaps a very different way -- to keep this day again. My problem must seem silly to you, so I ask your forgiveness.

But those who know me best know that I'm more like a 3-year-old than an adult in the way I hold tight to ritual. Lately, I have felt that those family rituals are slipping away as my children grow into adulthood, and surely this very different Christmas is another bit of proof. But I am determined not to spoil this holiday with my weepy, clingy sentimentality.

However odd it feels, this year I'll be home for Christmas, where the lovelight gleams. I'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me.

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