Dec 18, 200912:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Simply Halving a Wonderful Christmastime: Feeling Torn at the Holidays

As I start to raise a family of my own, I feel pulled between the need to honor traditions we already have and the need to make new traditions of our own.

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I dimly remember that Christmas used to be really fun and meaningful and magical. I remember being a fervent believer in Santa. I remember getting a longed-for set of Cabbage Patch Kid twins –– Jonathan Eugene and Mitchell Scott. I remember the excitement of watching my dad hang up the Christmas lights, the fat multicolored ones, as my mom carefully unpacked all of the ornaments, including my favorite, my Baby’s First Christmas one that my grandmother sent my mom in 1980. We had Christmas traditions, from walking through Celebration in the Oaks on clear chilly nights to baking cherry pies for Lessons and Carols at my tiny Episcopalian church Uptown.
But then I moved away.

My first Christmas after going away to college was incredibly lonely. My mom had already moved out of New Orleans; my high school sweetheart and I had broken up; and my dad ditched me on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with the woman who would become his fifth wife, who was named, appropriately enough, Merrie Christmas. I was 18 years old, and I remember pacing the floors in my dad’s tiny, drafty Mid-City home wearing sweatpants and thick socks and listening to his record collection and drinking his beers and feeling sort of like the last person on earth. I still can’t listen to Hearts and Bones without remembering that Christmas and that aching emptiness.

So the next year, I said, “To hell with it,” and spent the holiday with my future in-laws in St. Louis. A huge Catholic family, they were warm and welcoming. They hung out a stocking for me, and I made them caramel-apple French toast for breakfast. And I’ve spent Christmas with them every year since.

It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not mine, has never been mine, never will be mine. For one thing, I’m not Catholic, so I’m always left sitting alone in the pew while they all file down for Communion. For another, there are Baby’s First Christmas ornaments on their tree, but my Baby’s First Christmas ornament, the one with the unraveling pastel thread, is on my mom’s tree. The string art ornaments I made in fifth grade, the carousel horses inside glass bells, the ones featuring year after year of my awkward school pictures: Those are all at my mom’s house.

And now that I have my own child, I feel especially torn. As nice as it is to be folded into my in-laws’ traditions, we need to develop our own traditions as a family.

Also, now that we have a child, everyone suddenly cares where we spend Christmas. My mom wants to see Ruby. My dad wants to see Ruby. Even my sister, who doesn’t particularly care for anyone under the age of 25, wants to see Ruby. And so we will end up having several Christmases, one in the St. Louis suburbs and one Uptown on Jeannette Street and one in Poplarville, Miss., where my dad and Merrie Christmas-Kidd live with their 17 dogs. For someone like me, who is kind of a Grinch anyway, three Christmases is pushing the limits of my sanity.

But it’s not really about me anymore, and in the end, all I really hope is that when Ruby looks back in 25 years, she’ll be able to say that she dimly remembers that Christmas used to be really fun and meaningful and magical.

Happy holidays, everyone!

 

Reader Comments:
Dec 18, 2009 03:35 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I'd ditch your Dad's Christmas. Why is it that men who put their "girlfriends" first, expect their kids to never put anyone before them when they get older. Good for you that you now have your Mom and a warm loving group of, albeit Catholic, inlaws. Have a very Merry Christmas

Dec 18, 2009 08:13 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Get your ornaments back from your mom! I got mine from my parents years ago and my kids have taken theirs to their own trees. Ornaments follow the kids! I love to see mine on my own tree and to see theirs on their trees when I visit them. Your mom shouldn't mind at all. Buy her some to trade if there would be hole in her tree.

Dec 18, 2009 08:25 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I think Ruby will remember all of the above as being wonderful traditions. Last year we broke away from the traveling Christmas and are in the process of starting our own Christmas traditions at our house, very casual, very fun, and very us. It is still all about our little girl, and it does feel like our holiday now. Funny to think that I had the same first college Christmas experience, I was at Stephens, I traveled to Okla for Christmas from Columbia to find an empty house and a note, at least you had beer! Merry Christmas to you and Ruby!

Dec 19, 2009 12:04 pm
 Posted by  seemontgomery

I considered slitting my wrists after reading your article but thought better of it and decided to offer a message of Holiday cheer, instead. It sounds like you had some great Christmases before you had one amazingly bad one. I think what your daughter will cherish the most is a meaningful, love-filled Christmas Celebration with you and your husband rather than being ferried around the lower 48. Plus Christmas in New Orleans is a beautiful thing despite a lack of snow and sometimes even cooler weather. As I sit "snowed in" up here in a Yankee Winterwonderland, I think fondly of the oversized trees of my youth, with their tacky, home made ornaments, and garrish colored bulbs and sigh because it was the happiest time of my life without exception. May that happiness bless your and your family this Christmas!

Dec 19, 2009 12:19 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I agree that you should get your ornaments back. Leave one with your mom for her memories, but take yours and create new memories for Ruby. When I was newly married and we had moved away before Christmas, my grandmother sent two ornaments from her collection...ones that I had admired as a child. It made my first Christmas with my husband seem like home again. Then when I had my own children and had moved back to our hometown, I was bemoaning the fact that we dragged the kids from our house to my parents to my in-laws and back home again. My son looked up and said "But mom, it wouldn't be Christmas if we didn't go see EVERYBODY!" So don't worry about Ruby, what you do now will make her Christmas memories...and one day she'll look back and remember how wonderful Christmas was.

Dec 19, 2009 11:32 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

You need not sit in the pew when your husband goes up to communion. You are encouraged to go to the alter with your ars folded in front and receive a blessing. A blessing no matter who give it is a blessing.

Dec 21, 2009 09:56 am
 Posted by  goofus

BEST. HEADLINE. EVER.

Dec 21, 2009 12:30 pm
 Posted by  westy

We always knew that the ornaments given to our daughters through the years would go with them when they had their own trees. In fact, I packed both daughters' ornaments for them just after the first wedding. How they use them in their posession is their choice. I have given each of our three grandchildren a few special ornaments but have left the "one a year" family tradition to their parents--if they choose it. Make your own holiday traditions. We tried to fit into others, but our second Christmas was the one we decided to stay home. No 550 mile trip, one way. As our daughters now have children and in-laws, we simply say we'll be here and will work around their schedule. Since we focus on Advent in our protestant church, that fulfills us as we celebrate Christmas. We enjoy our grandchildren at different times such as this morning while their mom ran an errand and we played with animals, hammers, nails, bricks, etc. in the back yard. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Jan 4, 2010 07:56 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I stopped travelling for the two major holidays after I realized that even limiting the travelling to one holiday a year wasn't all the "family" that it was cracked up to be. So, for example, for Thanksgiving I invite 3 to 4 of my best compatriots to a lobster dinner (which is cheap in my neck of the woods). I make tvp chili (which is indistinguishable from beef chili if done by my recipe), and a veggie lasagna. Someone brings a salad and favorite dessert. We start drinking as soon as the lobsters are picked up, naps are taken on the couch as the others play music and gossip, and everyone moves at their own pace. It's all good--except someone else has to actually drop the lobsters in the steamer and hang out with them for a few minutes (I always thank them when I pick them up...but that "guilt" is a different discussion). And, it's all done on the Saturday before Thanksgiving thursday, so there are no "politics" and the actual holiday is like a real day off! Mom gets to see the grandkids and the other siblings all year long--but she rarely gets to see me and my friends, especially so relaxed and content.

Jan 29, 2010 01:10 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

During communion, I will gladly sit in the pews with you, acknowledging the fact that there are some things we feel differently about (no matter how much we love our in-laws).

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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