Being home on Christmas Eve is a lovely thing. As a member of the handbell choir, my traveling on Christmas makes it difficult for the church to enjoy bell music at the midnight Christmas Eve service. So when I'm able to be here, it's not just me that benefits.
This year we worked through December 20, which left precious little time to think about packing or traveling. Instead of making all those preparations and undergoing the attendant anxiety, I have sat in the front room with the lighted tree and knit a sweater, Noel has baked, and the kids have enjoyed each other's company.
Tomorrow morning we will wake up at our usual early hour, have a relaxed breakfast, and open a roomful of gifts. I will make the brined turkey I didn't get to make at Thanksgiving, and we will have a festive midday meal. In short, it's just the holiday I remember from when I was a kid, and the one I always dream of.
But there is a sacrifice to this kind of holiday -- the absence of extended family. Sometimes Noel's parents come to us at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but this year they were tied to their home by an elderly relative whose alternate caretaker couldn't travel to take their place. My folks have better, closer options to be with kids or in-laws around the solstice holidays; we can't expect them to make a two-day drive to be with us.
I've dealt poorly in the past with the pressure to pack up my kids and make that same trek, or even a shorter one, at such a busy and hectic time. We've had some awful ordeals to make the family gathering. I admit that I never want to do it again. But my desire for a Christmas at home is at increasing tension with the passing years, and with the advancing age and potential decline in health of my parents. Am I passing up the only Christmases with their Granny Lou and Papa that my children will ever be able to have?
When I was a kid, we drove an hour or so to see my paternal grandparents on Christmas Day for a second round of gifts and a big dinner, and visited my maternal grandmother at her apartment in town. Later my Papa and Nana lived on our property, and my Mamie was in a nursing home about ten minutes' drive away. I'm sure if that were my familial obligation these days I'd find a way to complain about it, but compared to the effort and expense it actually takes for a visit, I wish it were an option. Over the river and through the woods for us means down to the airport and connecting through Memphis, fraught with peril and costing more than a grand at the best of times, let alone at the packed year-end season.
I don't feel guilty about staying home on Christmas and enjoying the coziness of leisure, church, local traditions, and immediate family -- I really don't. But I know that it's more important year after year to find some way to gather with the whole clan. If not at the holidays, then during the summer when schedules are looser and weather less treacherous and transport easier. We're lucky to still have a nearly complete family tree with which to reunite. And we won't have them forever. Whatever the season, we can make it a holiday if we're all together.