I have fond memories of our holiday traditions when I was growing up. We spent every Thanksgiving when I was young at my great Aunt Betty's house. She lived in a neighboring state, so we usually had to drive a little bit to get there. As I got older, we moved Thanksgivings to my Uncle's house, who lived much closer to us, but my great Aunt and her kids and their families would still come.
On Christmas Eve, we would celebrate with dinner and gifts at my mom's parents' house. These are some of my favorite childhood memories. Usually, us kids would eat our dinner first. We were usually too excited to eat much, so we'd wolf down our dinners as fast as we could, and hurriedly clear out the table so the adults could get started. It would seem like they sat there forever and a day, eating, chatting, and torturing us with waiting! My brother, my cousin and I would continuously peek around the corner of the kitchen, giving them all the stink-eye for keeping us waiting so long. The rule was that the kitchen had to be cleaned up before the first gift could be opened. Do you have any idea what torture it is for a small child to sit and stare at a massive pile of gifts with your name on them, but have no control over when you'll be able to open them? That hour would feel like days of waiting, but we'd eventually get to open our gifts, and be delighted with each and every one of them.
On Christmas morning, we'd wake up really early to see the gifts that Santa had left for us. We'd spend the day at home, until dinner at my other grandmother's house that evening. Luckily, she lived right next door to us, so travel was minimal.
With time has come a parting of ways from old traditions. As my brother, my cousin and I have grown up and moved out, we've had to deal with coordinating work schedules (both my cousin and my brother have jobs that require them to work holidays sometimes), and coordinating celebrations with our own in-laws as well. To make things even MORE difficult, I've also got to contend with a visitation schedule for my older three children. It wasn't such a big problem in the beginning. We alternated Christmas and Thanksgiving each year. Now that I live out of state, it's a little more difficult. I still have them each year for the duration of their Thanksgiving break, which is wonderful (they always get a week off school for Thanksgiving). We've spent the last three years at my parents' home for the duration of the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, I really wanted to bring them to my home in Florida. It can get really hectic at my parents' house when the kids are cooped up indoors for a week (usually it's too cold and icky outside for them to play). I also knew that we would have more time over this holiday than we will during Christmas this year. Luckily, it worked out for us for this holiday. Don't even get me started on the cost of air travel during peak holiday season. The airfare cost me nearly $2,000 for this trip, and that's with my youngest sitting in my lap for both of our round trips. I don't even want to know what the cost will be next year, when he's too old to sit on my lap.
I've been struggling with the Christmas travel lately. My youngest, who lives with me and my husband, is having his 2nd Christmas this year. My older three children are scheduled to wake up at their Dad's house on Christmas morning on alternating years and this is his year. This means that I won't be able to pick my kids up until Christmas Day in the afternoon. This also means that I will either a) Have to travel on Christmas Day (which I have done before and it sucks) or b) Travel prior to Christmas Day, which means that my youngest won't be able to wake up in his own home on Christmas Morning on alternating years. I realize that he is too young to understand all of that this year, but two years from now, he won't be. He will be asking all sorts of questions. "How will Santa know where to leave my gifts?", "Why can't they (Sissy/Nate/Jake) wake up here with us?", "Why does Santa leave them gifts here when they don't live here?". Thinking about the future has got me wondering if I should even attempt to put on the whole Santa charade with my youngest. I only question this because I want to avoid his panic when we're not able to be in our own home for Christmas morning. I realize that it's really not fair to him, but then again, it's only one day out of the year. I wonder if my kids will have the same fond memories I have of Christmas and other holiday traditions, when they're not given the privilege of those things actually becoming traditions due to the visitation schedule.
Dealing with visitation schedules and other custody arrangements can sure put a damper on the holiday season. In addition to the logistical nightmare that they can be, the financial burden is also bothersome. I really wanted to bring my kids back to Florida for the Christmas break, but my husband talked some sense into me. He pointed out that if we purchased tickets for Christmas also, then we would be spending nearly $5,000 on airfare for them in a period of about 40 days. This would be piled onto his airfare cost to come home on break for the month of December, which was also over $2,000 (International Flight costs SUCK!). He pointed out that the kids would probably prefer we spend the money on their gifts instead, and he's right. It makes more sense to do that. Having my husband with us over Christmas break this year will make the season a bit more bearable, and we agreed that we could just alternate our holiday travel each year.
I hope that our kids will appreciate the season for what it is, and realize that we did the very best we could with what we had to work with at the time. I honestly don't know how other distant parents are able to manage the financial burden of the travel alone. Without my husband's job, there is absolutely no way we would be able to afford the luxury of bringing them down during the holiday season. Our holiday arrangements may not be conventional or anything like what I experienced growing up, but it's all my kids know and doesn't appear to be changing anytime in the distant future.