Celebrating the Holidays as a Young Woman.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I spent a lot of time today thinking about how Winter Break, Christmas, and my Birthday have changed over the years as I’ve grown older. I love the Holidays. Traditionally, it’s the time when my brother (and eventually my sister-in-law) came home and we got to spend time as a complete family. Mum usually does an English roast dinner on Christmas afternoon, along with mince pies,  jam tarts, and Dundee cake. Everything feels very British for me, and I love it. Christmas Eve the family plays Smash and Grab (a card game) and sometimes Scrabble before heading off to bed. We leave some sherry and a mince pie out for “Santa” and in the morning, I’m one of the first ones up. I have a stocking with Rudolph poking out of it and I’m allowed to empty the contents before everyone else is awake, if I want to. Mum starts cooking dinner and we sit around and open gifts, usually with me bringing them all out from under the tree. Many years, we have a gathering of friends for Boxing Day with wine and cheese and some claustrophobia.

Then things changed. It’s not because I’m getting older, but because my brother is moving into a different stage of his life. Last year, we were invited up to New York City because my brother and sister-in-law had just moved into a new apartment. They wanted to host us, and while going to the city is generally cause for excitement (for me, anyway), it wasn’t the same. I slept on the couch. It was snowing, and cold, and Mum wasn’t in the best of moods as such. Nothing felt familiar. Mum substituted a few ingredients for dinner the best she could, and there was no baking. I missed my Rudolph stocking. And even though I felt sad because I missed those things, I was disappointed in myself for feeling sad. Because the Holidays are supposed to be about being with family…but I missed our traditions, I missed the familiarity and I didn’t appreciate the stress of traveling so much (especially with my parents).

This year, my nephew was born in July. As such, we’re visiting NYC again for Christmas. In our heart of hearts, Mum and I longed to stay home. We yearned for the familiarity, the relaxation, the weather. Am I enjoying myself up here? Sure. I love getting to meet my nephew for the first time. It brings a smile to my face to see him enjoying his first Christmas. I love the city, the Subway, the lights and the sounds when I fall asleep at night. But it isn’t really Christmas for me. It’s something else, some nice family gathering with a few small gifts but it isn’t what I ache for.

I wonder whether I’ll ever get that back again.

My brother has already made comments like, “well we can do that when you’re here next year.” Mum and I give each other a knowing look; we’ve already discussed not coming a third time. I feel guilty for not appreciating the season, and for expecting my brother and sister-in-law to always being the ones to make the trip. But I want Christmas back. My Christmas. With all of the traditions I grew up with, intact.

There’s something at any age about growing up…it’s the idea that no matter what we do, things always change. Circumstances happen that we can not always control, and we adapt. We grow. But sometimes we notice, and it hurts more than we expect. I think about all of my students and how their lives are changing now that they’re in college. Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstace, Birthdays, Halloween, Easter…these holidays will never again be what they were. Perhaps something small changes and they won’t notice, or something huge will change that sets them wondering if they’ll ever go back.

This will be the first year ever that I will be away from home for my birthday. Mum might have to re-send cards to my school address. I’ll likely be working the entire day. My closest friends will forget it ever happened, and I’ll still tell strangers that I’m twenty one years old. And maybe next year it will be back to normal, just a blip in a recurring timeline.

But maybe not.

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