I have always loved Christmas and the anticipation that leads up to it. As a child, I spent many hours trying to find the gifts my mom would so painstakingly hide. I relished the suspense of seeing presents under the tree, dreaming up all the possibilities of what could be inside. On Christmas morning I would get up early, awakened by anticipation in the darkest of night, and sneak downstairs after I knew my parents and ‘Santa’ had finished arranging their pile of gifts and stuffing our stockings. I tiptoed about in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, gazing at the overflow of presents, basking in the calm and magic of Christmas before dawn.
As I grew older, the thing that made this season so special was not as much about the presents, but about being able to spend significant quality time with extended family who lived hours away. It was the one time of year we all gathered together to sit around the table and exchange stories of God’s faithfulness, and to have those unavoidable family debates. Throughout high school and college, I began feeling a longing, that desire to have someone to share my incredible family Christmas experiences. I looked at the strong marriages in my extended family, the camaraderie between all my aunts and uncles, and I felt the pang in my heart of bittersweet hope.
One day I will have that, but when?
The fact that popular culture harps on the ‘misery’ of being single during the holidays certainly did not help my case. You can not get away from it. I felt like I was missing out. My soundtrack to this season became variations of the sentiment behind SheDaisy’s “That’s What I Want for Christmas” (which of course I played on repeat):
‘When you said yesterday that it’s nearly Christmas
What did I want and I thought just love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas
When I walk through a room let them see you need me
Walk through a room let them see you love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas…’
Over the years, I had boyfriends through the holidays, so I had a taste of having someone to belong to during this magical season. When I was dating in my early twenties, my vision of a perfect engagement involved hot chocolate, a big fuzzy blanket, a one-horse open sleigh. My dreams were grandiose. My expectations for what Christmas would look once I had found my other half were pretty high to say the least. Thankfully, my parents had a pretty strict policy that boyfriends were not permitted to join us on family vacations. At the time it was annoying, but now I am grateful. The sacredness of most my favorite family memories are not marred by the ghosts of boyfriends past.
Finally, on Christmas of 2011, when I was 26, the dream of sharing my beloved family Christmas traditions with my true love came to pass. My new husband Nick came with me for our big extended family Christmas in North Carolina. It was surreal to watch a hope I had held so long come true. Having my husband among my family was wonderful. The ease with which he fit into our family surprised me a bit. He laughed and swapped stories with my cousins and uncles. It was oddly like he had always been there.
But can I tell you that now on the other side of my former hopes, while having someone forever at Christmas is wonderful, it is not quite like I pictured it? I live across the river from New York City, the American headquarters of Christmas cheer. People come here in droves to experience Christmastime in the city. There are many things I love about living here, but there are others that challenge my younger self’s expectations of what married Christmases would be like. I do not have a big, comfortable living room with a crackling fire and Christmas tree decked to the nines with ornaments telling stories of Christmases past. I live in a one bedroom apartment less than 800 square feet, and no real room for a respectable Christmas tree. So we make do with what we have – a wreath hung on our window, some twinkly lights, and a little tabletop greenery.
Now that I am married, I balance not just my family holiday traditions, but the those of my husband’s family as well. My Christmases will never look the same again. There are wonderful aspects of that, but also challenging ones. I am blessed to have incredible in-laws, but now I feel the pang of missing out in a different way – of not being able to be in two places at once. Those extended family holidays in the south will be few and far between. Distance and job responsibilities shape our Christmas season now. When we move into the season of life where we have children of our own, our holiday realities will shift all over again. And I admit… I’m looking forward to creating magical Christmas memories for my future kids – even though they will likely be entirely different from I imagined.
So for my friends whose hearts ache during this season, those still waiting and longing for the next stage, do your best to cherish this time in your life. And regardless of where you are… single, dating, married, waiting for children, or a growing family, Christmas requires cooperation. No matter your “status,” if you want to experience the magic and wonder of the season to its fullest, you have to start practicing now. Carry on your family traditions, or begin building your own. The magic of Christmas happens when you count your blessings and embrace where you are wholeheartedly.
[This post was originally published December 2013 at Sometimes, Always, Never.]