There are a few sure signs that you are officially a full-blown adult. One of those signs is that going home for the holidays is just…different. It was my sophomore year of college when this started for me.
I decided to go to school just about as far away from my Minnesota hometown as possible, in South Florida. So coming back to my snow covered city where the icy kitchen windows would fog up in the evening while we baked the same cookies that we had been baking for the past 20 years seemed to have some crazy holiday magical power. It was something I dreamt about all year long, even while lounging poolside and attempting to not get pooped on by an overhead passing flock of parrots.
But starting with sophomore year, the Christmas season back home began to feel off-kilter. First, our tree, which for my entire life was always cut down fresh and decorated with the most tacky, wonderfully ridiculous Christmas lights possible—a string of geese, trains and chili peppers—was now plastic, covered in pre-installed white bulbs and simple gold ornaments. Then, our cookie-making sessions took a hard hit. It had always been a lengthy, messy event with homemade batter, frosting decorated with multiple colors of sprinkles and really old Red Hots that could break your teeth in half. Now, it was a rushed assembling of store bought gluten-free dough fit in around the ever-decreasing amount of time we could all get off of work.
And then, there was the issue of the stocking. I stopped getting one. Since I could remember, I would wake up to a tacky red and white sock stuffed to the brim with chocolate, fruit, and Hot Wheels cars, of course. My dad never got a son. Then one year, the fireplace was empty. “No stockings?!” I asked my parents as they sipped their coffee on Christmas morning. My dad casually looked into his mug like a guilty puppy.
“I didn’t feel like making another trip to the store,” my mom said. “Plus, you are too old now anyway.”
Each Christmas seemed to be more and more different than the ones of my childhood. At the same time, the older I got and the further I sunk into the complex universe of “adulting,” the more I yearned for ways of the past. Going back to that time of life, if only for a few weeks of the year, had to be the fix all for life’s grown-up problems, because nothing else was slowing down this lame responsibility train. When I was neck deep in the crust of tax paying or job hunting or Comcast calling, I would daydream about bellying up to my family table to stuff myself with our traditional meal of tuna casserole topped with American cheese slices – fresh from the plastic wrapper – before a night of watching those terrible yet amazing claymation Christmas movies. Surely, that would make everything right again. I just wanted home to remain a place of comfort and old traditions, especially ones that included American cheese. Instead, it became a place where I was slapped in the face with change, and the realization of how much I hated that. Also, I developed an allergy to dairy, so there was that. No more tuna casserole.
One year in my mid-twenties, we decided that we were not going to go over to my aunts on Christmas Eve, like we had almost every year prior. My extended family had other things going on, and so it was just my sister and I and our husbands at our parents house for the evening.
Since it was such a small group, the Canadian Club whiskey was poured early and we settled in to open gifts – because why not? When we were kids, my family would go crazy overboard with presents – stacks and piles of useless but fun sweaters and CD’s. This year we adhered to the new adult standard of one gift per person. Usually, they were kitchen related, like a Pyrex tupperware set. At the ripe old age of 28, I can now fully appreciate the Pyrex tupperware set. At 22, not so much.
One tradition did seem to last through the years, however. If a large gift had been purchased, my mom would always save that one to be open last, as some sort of a grand finale. This year, that mega gift was a snow blower for my dad. He had lived in Minnesota his entire life, which had now added up to more than 50 years of clearing driveways with just a shovel. Why the snow blower hadn’t been purchased decades earlier – who knows. But this was the year where his snow life would change forever, and for the better.
By the time of this big reveal, the Canadian Club was making us a bit rowdy, in all the best ways. We danced our way out into the open garage, snowfall visible in the circles of streetlight over the soft powder-covered ground. The guys went back into where the snow blower was hiding and with dramatic grandeur, wheeled it out to the driveway to present it to my dad.
We all began cheering, hooting and hollering, dancing around this machine that in a state like Minnesota, really does deserve to be praised in this way. One of us had the great idea to find every snow shovel in the garage and throw it as far away into the yard as possible in a gesture of “see you later, you inferior snow moving piece of crap.”
I was standing there watching shovels fly through the air and the snowflakes fall with a huge grin on my face when it hit me. Not a flying shovel, but a revelation. Yes, Christmas was now different than it had been growing up. Really different. Life was different. There were no more stockings filled with little cars and the traditions had weakened and morphed. But this stage of adulthood also brought about a whole new set of fun, one that could never had been had when I was 14. New opportunities to make memories, like this wild moment. I decided that to fully enjoy this stage, I was going to have to let go of the way it all used to be. Yes, things had changed, but I could open my hands to the new reality, because trying to hold onto to something that will never return was getting me nowhere. And when doing so, I could discover that different can be good. This, tonight, tossing snow shovels into oblivion with my parents, was good.
The following years brought about more Christmas change. Infants were birthed, cousins were married, the family grew and how we accommodated shook things up even more.
This year, I won’t even be traveling back at all, but tucked into my own house with just my husband, far away from Minnesota, because any day now we will have a new family member of our own—a baby girl. And while I will miss our freezing northern Christmas with the shovel-tossing people I love most, I know we will all be together again soon, with a new little human to add to the celebration. A new person to create a lifetime of fresh memories and traditions for. And, she may even be the perfect excuse to resurrect some of the old things that made my childhood Christmases so special. I better start stocking up on Hot Wheels cars now.
[Image via Magnolia Pictures]