candy canes on table with pine cones and lights

Christmas was always a very hard time of the year for me when my son was younger and we lived away from my family. As a single mom, winter break was often split which meant doing a lot of the lead up traditions to Christmas Eve wasn’t possible every year. It felt disjointed and awkward to try to build traditions that I could maintain every year. Traditions can become a burden.

Holiday Stress

ornaments in a box

I love winter holidays. Sure, growing up in Hawaii isn’t exactly the place to celebrate winter, but I love the trees, the lights, the movies, the songs, well the list just goes on. I love it all. And when I lived where it snowed, I loved that too! But the magic of Santa was a challenge when my son was younger. We didn’t have a lot of money for presents and the timing of my custody always seemed to leave something lacking when it came to doing the little things like seeing Santa or going on a train for a tree finding expedition.

I wanted him to remember his time with me, enjoy the holidays, and learn to love the magic of the season. But it was hard to juggle it all. School plays, PTA fundraisers, class parties, present shopping, and post office insanity all contributed to not being able to cuddle on the sofa to watch Rudolph with hot chocolate or eggnog.

We’d get invited to gatherings and holiday parties of friends, but those became awkward for me if my son wasn’t with me. Everyone asking where he is was always a reminder that he wasn’t with me. Their innocent questions stung my soul. Over time I started to decline holiday gatherings unless he was with me; it was just easier.

Why Traditions Matter

I’m what one would consider the family historian. I know the family tree, keep the recipes alive, and am very proud of who I am as it pertains to where I’ve come from. For me, these were important things to help my son understand even living 2,100 miles across an ocean away from my close family. Traditions are important because they give us a sense of belonging and comfort in consistency. Even a cranky teen can appreciate knowing that some things are just what we do as a family.

Some traditions are cultural and help us stay connected to our past. It’s also time when family expects to spend time together with love, laughter, and the occassional arguement over something as silly as the tree topper choice. When traditions involve extended family, the younger generation gets to know the older relatives and distant cousins, expanding their inner family circle. Making the same recipe for dinner helps you feel connected when living thousands of miles away.

Finding Our Own Way with Traditions

santa next to a christmas tree

There was one consistent part of my winter with my son, Christmas Eve though Christmas Day. Our traditions had to fit into this 36-hour window, sometimes rushed and hectic. But it had to be done in that time slot. The presents were already wrapped with Santa’s specially wrapped presents hidden out of sight. The tree would have been decorated the day after Thanksgiving or as soon as we could. My mom started sending him Hawaiian Santa ornaments when he was born, a way to connect our mainland home to our roots in Hawaii.

With everything all ready for the morning Santa presents reveal, I’d make a simple dinner. We’d eat as the Christmas movie binge would start. All the classic claymation films from my childhood like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. He’d open his presents from me and we’d play as I’d put on A Christmas Story and just soak in the evening. I’d let him plead his case to sleep on the sofa which we did, year after year. We’d put the milk and cookies out for Santa with a few carrots for the reindeer.

Somewhere around 1 AM, I’d try to pry myself from his slumbered cuddle without waking him. I’d tip toe around the house for a few minutes to make sure he didn’t wake just feet from the tree. I’d eat the the cookies and feed the carrots to the dog, keeping just a few bites to toss into the yard in the morning. It was all so easy except when you’re transporting a Santa gift filled with Lego parts through the dark. One stumble becomes a loud tell-all. Yet, year-after-year I managed to not wake him and slip back into an uncomfortable cuddle on the sofa.

Holiday Magic

boy standing over Christmas presents

Now that he is 17, there is no need to wait for Santa. Ironically, as hard and exhausting as they were, I miss the Santa routine. Why? Becuase for all the trouble of the holidays, the biggest tradition I worked hard to create was the feeling that Santa and the Spirit of Christmas was magically. I couldn’t afford a wild and crazy Christmas, yet every year I systematically figured out what was the most special gift: not just Legos but a new box of Star Wars Lego you couldn’t buy anymore.

It took planning all year to save the money to make the holiday special. It wasn’t about an expensive toy; it was his eyes widening and saying, “Of course that is Santa because I know we couldn’t get that.” That for me, even today, is the magic of a simple holiday tradition of what Santa will bring in the morning. Truth: I well up just thinking about it because I never wanted him to see the stress I experienced during the holidays. I wanted his tradition to be one of magic and his reaction was the only way I ever knew that I succeeded. Now, that part of the holiday is a memory, but a very special one that brings me joy as I look at the young man who will lay on the floor and play with the dog as we put on our movies and enjoy Christmas Eve.

Happy Holidays to all. If you need a place to talk and vent, the Single Mommy Tribe is a safe place to share and get support. No one should feel alone this holiday season.

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