LOOKING BACK ON OUR FAMILY HOLIDAYS
Most couples bicker over things like money, politics, and where to go on their next vacation, but my wife Kaye and I butt heads about something else entirely: Christmas.
You see, even though Kaye and I both grew up in the same small town in Wisconsin, we had radically different Christmas traditions. Kaye’s family consisted of farmers, so most of their traditions were focused on Christmas Eve. For example, they would always go to the Christmas Eve service at their church. While they were gone, Santa would visit and leave presents for the kids. When they got home, they opened them right away! Basically, they had Christmas a day early so they could get their farm chores done in the morning.
My family, on the other hand, weren’t farmers. When we went to bed on Christmas Eve, the space under the tree was bare. Santa came in the middle of the night, and we woke up to stuffed Christmas stockings and a pile of presents in the morning. The stockings in particular were a big deal in my family — my mother would always find a way to fill them with small gifts from “Santa,” and I loved digging into mine as a kid.
As you might imagine, when Kaye and I got married almost 50 years ago, we had a heck of a time figuring out a Christmas plan for our family! Eventually, since we aren’t farmers, we decided that Kaye’s traditions would take a back seat to mine when it was time to raise our kids. It was hard for her at first, but we found ways to compromise. The saving grace was that we always had presents from the family under the tree on Christmas Eve so our kids could open one or two that night and then the rest of the gifts from Santa on Christmas Day.
By far, the most difficult thing for my wife to adjust to was the stockings. She never had a Christmas stocking growing up, and I could tell it irked her in the early days when I reminded her about the extra presents we needed. She always had to scramble to go shopping at the last minute, and sometimes the socks were a little light.
One year, Kaye forgot about the Christmas stockings completely! In a middle-of-the-night panic, she dug out some fruit from the fridge and dropped it in. When our daughters woke up and opened up their stockings, one discovered a banana, another pulled out an orange, and the third found an apple! To this day, they can’t tell that story without laughing, and Christmas wouldn’t be complete without one of them using it to poke some goodnatured fun at their mother.
Of course, now that our daughters are grown up, Christmas stockings aren’t as much of an issue as they used to be. We might not even see our girls this holiday season because of the pandemic. Our oldest, Shelley, is planning to stay in South Korea, where she teaches, and our youngest daughter, Monica, will be home in California for Christmas. We might still see our middle daughter, Dana, because she lives nearby in Austin, but it’s hard to say. Regardless, we do have FaceTime so we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas somehow!
Traveling farther afield than Austin is definitely off the table. Kaye and I already got our fill of pandemic travel this fall and decided we’re done for 2020. We took a seven-day trip to Wisconsin to see my wife’s sister and visit the graves of our relatives this September. It was great to spend time with our families, but there was a lot of hassle along the way.
We chose to drive rather than fly so we could enjoy the time together in the car and manage our exposure to COVID-19. That meant a lot of masks and social distancing at gas stations, spraying down hotel rooms with disinfectant, and dealing with people who weren’t as careful as we were. I’ll never forget the moment when, during one late-afternoon stop at a Cracker Barrel, a woman came in with a party of 12. None of them were wearing masks, and when they heard they’d have to wait for a table, they dispersed throughout the gift area, chatting and wandering without any consideration for safety or social distancing. It was uncomfortable to say the least. Then, when we got to Wisconsin, it rained the whole time we were there! Thankfully, Kaye had convinced me to pack a few pairs of long pants just in case — I would have been pretty darn cold in my shorts.
Still, even with those downsides, it was a fun trip, and I’m heading into the holidays feeling very grateful. Yes, there’s a pandemic, but my health is good, my family is happy, my yard is mowed, and things will just get better from here. I hope that however you spend it, you have a very merry Christmas and a great start to the New Year!