By Shelley Murphy
Like Ebenezer Scrooge, this holiday season I am revisiting my Christmases past, facing the present and glimpsing into the future.
When I reflect on past holiday seasons, I remember the cheerful chaos at Christmastime: the exhausting blur of my sons’ school parties and pageants; adorning our house with yuletide decorations both inside and outside; and secretly wrapping shimmering boxes and stuffing stockings late into the night.
Reminiscing makes me nostalgic, and this December I’m missing many traditions from Christmases past.
I pine for seasonal shopping bags from stores instead of cardboard packing boxes from websites.
I pine for photo holiday cards instead of Instagram story videos.
I pine for counting down the days to the televised broadcast of Dr. Seuss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, instead of streaming it.
But, above all, it’s the tradition of magical Christmas mornings that I miss most.
When my boys were tiny tots, they’d rise before dawn, their eager anticipation making it impossible to sleep. Their unbridled excitement sent them racing from their beds to the top of the stairs, where they’d stop before sprinting downstairs to ravage their stockings and reveal Santa’s gifts.
Today, my sons are young adults— not little boys—but every December, I deck the halls with snowmen, Santas and stockings, hoping our decades-old decorations evoke merry childhood memories.
Perhaps my nostalgia is at a peak this holiday season due to my family’s recent tweaking of our traditional celebrations. As a parent of two 20-somethings, I’ve discovered the only constant in their lives is change.
As a result, we celebrated my husband’s birthday in the summer, not the spring; we spent Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, not at our home; and we will celebrate Christmas Day on Christmas Eve.
My husband’s planned “surprise” birthday trip was announced in April, but we traveled in July due to my younger son’s college calendar and older son’s career demands.
And Thanksgiving Day, I didn’t sit down at a table with a turkey—unless I count the blackjack table with the kid who split face cards when the dealer’s hand showed a 3.
Adapting to both my boys’ busy adult lives means compromising and redefining our customs and calendars. So, this year, we’re opening our gifts on Dec. 24, not Dec. 25.
My older son is required to work on Christmas Day—thanks to a professional sports team making my naughty list.
This year marks the first time my family won’t spend Christmas Day together.
The unexpected disruption to our annual family tradition is frustrating, but also enlightening. I realized I’ve been living in a jolly world of denial, taking my sons’ holiday presence for granted.
It seems unthinkable that I haven’t prepared for this day.
In my defense, my sons have always been home for the holidays. When they left for college, they returned to the nest each year.
But this year, both my boys are college graduates. They’re entering the next chapter of their lives, and that part will happen away from home. My sons are grown and flown, and they are starting their own traditions.
It’s bittersweet to think of our age-old traditions shifting or stopping. Yet, I know it’s time for me to redefine my rigid belief that our holiday traditions must remain the same as in years past.
Like Scrooge, I realize I need to change my ways in the future or risk being branded a holiday humbug.
While I cherish the Christmas traditions and merry memories that bond my family together, in the future I’ll try to remember that our treasured traditions were also once brand-new traditions.
This Christmas, I’m relishing our family memories from the past, celebrating being together in the present, and looking forward to sharing new traditions in the future.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 21 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.