On Christmas morning as we were heading from one house to another, Craig remarked that it didn't feel like Christmas. I knew what he meant. I don't know what it was, but for some reason it didn't exactly feel like Christmas. I mean, it was a great couple days and I have really changed anything, but even now I'm almost surprised that another Christmas is behind us. It always goes fast. It's like planning for a wedding or the birth of a baby, but on a smaller scale. So much buildup for a day or two of craziness, and then it's over. You're left with good stuff in the aftermath, but there's so much planning and then...it's over. I have some theories about why it felt that way, but I'm not sure if any of them really explain it...or even all of them.
1) This was the first Christmas without my grandma. For a variety of reasons, we didn't even see that side of the family this year. My parents had everyone over on Christmas Eve, but that's our prime time with Craig's family, so we missed it. For Christmas, everyone had other family commitments and our Christmas day is usually full enough that there was no need to force it. And without the gifts my grandma used to give, there wasn't that added motivation. While I didn't miss the gifts themselves, I certainly missed the dose of "Grandma" those gifts represented. Every year we'd get a new Hallmark ornament (our tree is covered with them), and that tradition is over. It's probably a good thing as we're nearly out of room, but I did enjoy pulling them all out this year and appreciating how special they are now that she's gone. She also tended to give certain things over the years--Christmas linens, jewelry, perfume, etc.--and I'll always look at that stuff knowing it came from her. So while it's not the gifts, I do miss time with that side of the family and the memories from the gift opening over the years.
2) Last Christmas was pretty hard to top. Last year, John, Kristin and Kate flew in from Portland on Christmas. We had a blast on the 26th opening presents with both kids, and the next few days were really great having the whole family together and watching the kids interact for the first time. Also, their presence extended the holiday a bit. Like this year, we did our Santa presents at home on the 23rd, Christmas with Craig's family on the 24th, family stuff on my side on the 25th, and two exchanges on the 26th (as I recall) because my mom's family came over to see the Portland crew that night. It made for a great, long-running Christmas. In comparison, this year seemed short and significantly less exciting. Still great, but you know...different.
3) Christmas mass was in a gym. It was still lovely, but it was different. Growing up, we spent all of Christmas at church, or so it seemed. We did two services on Christmas Eve (Children's service and Candlelight service), and then one on Christmas morning. I loved the Christmas Eve services so much, and once Craig and I started spending the holidays together, the compromise was giving up Christmas Eve traditions with my family. In return I got to keep all of our Christmas Day craziness, which was the key part of Christmas for me. But I've always missed Christmas Eve...even though my parents now go to a different church anyway. For the past five years or so, we've gone to Christmas Eve mass late in the afternoon. I actually really liked the year we did Midnight Mass, but I don't think that's the best idea for a busy next day. But over these past years I've really come to enjoy that time at Craig's parents' church. The music is beautiful, the mood peaceful, and knowing that the kids are hyper because they're excited for Santa makes the distractions a little cuter than usual. This year the church had another service in the gym to handle the overflow from the very busy mass in the main sanctuary. Craig's mom was part of the singing group for the gym service so we went to that one. And while it was fine, it was different. And in a year of lots of "different", I suppose it didn't help. Still, it was impressively lovely for something in a gym, and the message was really nice.
4) No snow. We hardly had any snow prior to Christmas and other than a flurry the moment we arrived in Buffalo on Friday night, no sight of snow through the holidays. I appreciated the easy driving while running Christmas errands, but I missed that extra Christmas spirit boost. Of course, here we are three days later with a few inches of blowing snow.
5) Maybe I planned better. I still had a lot of last minute stuff to do, but I think overall I planned better so I wasn't spending the few days before Christmas buying things like teacher presents and co-worker presents and all the stuff I normally scramble for. Maybe because it was more evenly spread across the last couple weeks of the season, I didn't have the same rush I normally associate with the end of the Christmas season.
Like I said, in spite of all of these changes, we still had an awesome Christmas. Jacob's excitement was fun to see, and that probably made the holiday for both of us. We enjoyed our gifts (one of my surprise favorites--Shel Silverstein's "Every Thing On It"--loved his stuff as a kid and can't wait to share it with Jacob), but Jacob's joy was infectious. As I alluded to above, Christmas tends to change as you get older--from the crazy-about-Santa phase, to a more mature but still excited phase, to sharing it with a special someone, to enjoying your children and grandchildren. Every phase has its good points and bad points, and each phase involves some adjusting. "Different" doesn't necessarily mean "better" or "worse"...but it does take an open mind to appreciate the new and gracefully miss the old. I may miss my old church on Christmas Eve, but a chaotic-but-fun time with Craig's whole family is a special blessing itself. This year may have been different, but despite that, we still had a fantastic holiday. We are truly blessed.