Why the holidays are different in your 20s

In elementary school, I looked forward to the holidays the way most young children do, as a chance to see my cousins (who I adore), and drink as many Coca-Colas as I could with my comically large mound of mashed potatoes before one of my parents reminded me to save room for my veggies. In high school, my cousins, big brother, and I would sneak downstairs—as far away from the adults as possible—to watch a movie and eat in peace. As a college kid home before Black Friday retail shifts, I enjoyed time with my family, squeezed in as many coffees and drinks with friends as my days off would allow, and tried to snag more than six hours of consecutive sleep before classes started up again.

Fast forward a few years to the present and I have a very different view of what goes on between November 20 to January 2. Bottom line, the holidays with my family are downright splendiferous and I have never been short on loving this time of year. Yet, the knowledge that I am now largely responsible for the delight of The Season for other people fills me with equal parts joy and exhaustion. What happens when you become the go-to person for holiday cheer in your family unit is, in many ways, your entry into a new club; one that gives you a backstage pass to see how the real magic is made.

First, there’s the new level of understanding that making days like Thanksgiving or Christmas happen is a lot of freaking work. I always knew my mother and aunts did a lot to make our family events special, but they did it in a way that showed mostly the love and very little of the labor, which I have grown to respect and appreciate with age.

Also, there’s the carrying on of traditions. There are many little rituals around the holidays that were so much fun when I was young and still are, but I feel their weight and importance so much more with every passing year. So many of them I keep up not just because I love them, but because I am acutely aware it’s now on me to keep them going, and I don’t want them to fade into just another story from my childhood.

On top of that, despite having more responsibilities and control, I have the strong urge to simplify and not pack my festivities quite so full. Little by little, the FOMO has lessened and just being able to see my loved ones, and be with them for a day without any other obligations is all I want.

Add to all this the new traditions, the ones I have created with my little family unit. There are special dishes cooked only by my husband, and twinkle lights are officially part our Thanksgiving preparations. Decorating the house means watching White Christmas or The Muppet Christmas Carol while unpacking garlands and wreaths and telling their origin stories to each other as if we didn’t know.

Now I understand the feelings of both my elementary school age self and my current one. In my youth, it wasn’t that the adults were overly concerned about my soda to mashed potato intake ratio, or cared that our teenage selves disappeared downstairs because we were “so over” listening to their jokes and stories. The adults of my holidays as a child were reconciling their past Thanksgivings and Christmases with their present ones, learning to blend traditions, taking moments to be present and enjoy the time with their family, and watching us grow up before their eyes.

[Image via NBC]

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