I grew up with a large extended family. My dad is one of six kids and each of those kids went forth and multiplied. I have first cousins that range from their 50s down to age 18. As we all grew up, we added spouses and kids. The next generation runs from their 20s down to little babies.
It was a great big, loud family.
My grandparents were our glue. My grandmother truly was the heart and soul of the family and their home was the epicenter for it all.
We gathered there for all the occasions– holidays, births, deaths, just because. We spent many a summer day crowded around the swimming pool playing Marco Polo and having diving board competitions. New Year’s Eves were spent with the kids hanging out in the basement and the parents camped out in the living room.
It was an amazing way to grow up. There was always a bevy of built in playmates.
Christmas was by far my favorite.
It was the holiday that everyone came home. As my cousins grew and scattered, I could almost always count on seeing them all on Christmas Day.
We packed a 1200 Sq ft house full. We had the world’s fastest gift exchange passing presents quickly through the linked rooms. With as many of us that there were, you found a spot, you sat, and you stayed. There was food and fellowship and so much laughter and love.
The day always went by too fast.
But, all good things must come to an end, I suppose.
When my grandfather passed away the cracks within the family became evident and went my grandmother passed, the glue was gone.
The little house on 121st Street was eventually sold. Life marched on and things have never been the same.
The whys, the how’s, and the details aren’t important and it’s really not my story to tell. Some have made peace with it and some have not and that’s okay.
It’s all just different now.
My children don’t know what one of those loud crazy Christmases of my younger days was really like as my oldest was only one when my grandma passed. They can’t even begin to imagine it.
My children also don’t know that big, extended family. I have relatives who have never met my children nor have they ever expressed desire to. That’s quite alright as along the way I’ve learned there is much more to family than DNA.
I have a cousin who appointed herself the keeper of the flame so to speak. Each year an invite comes to a Christmas gathering that I truly have no desire to be part of. I no longer choose to take seats at tables as a matter of obligation or to make forced conversation with someone who doesn’t care what I am doing on a random Tuesday in August let alone Christmas.
My personal feelings aside, my boys have Autism. They have different needs. They simply couldn’t tolerate a loud, unfamiliar, closed environment full of strangers. They come first.
I don’t know that everyone understands that, but I know I don’t care if they do or not.
More than that, we’ve created our own traditions.
My husband and I have begun building our traditions with our kids in our home. We follow our morning up with a fun, laid back Christmas gathering at my parents’ with my brothers. It’s the perfect way to spend our holiday.
I hope that someday my children and their children will continue in our traditions, but if they don’t, I hope they know that’s okay.
And so, we pack our memories up and put them away in the knowledge that on cold winter days we can revisit those ghosts of Christmas past.