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!