Shortly after my husband and I got married, the military whisked us away from where we grew up in the Midwest to the island of Hawaii. It was lovely. It was warm. It was very far from home. Between the military salary and the extreme cost of living in Hawaii, going home for Christmas that first year was simply out of the question.
Christmas for us had previously been defined by family. We went to the church where I grew up for the candlelight service then quickly drove over to Hubby’s aunt’s house for their family Christmas Eve party. Christmas morning was spent with my family as there were still little ones in the house who woke up before the crack of dawn to see if Santa came then we split the rest of the day bouncing back and forth between festivities with different family members. It varied slightly from year to year but one thing was consistent, family.
Suddenly, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we were the only family each other had to celebrate with.
It was quite daunting, looking at the holidays and trying to determine how to make it special. Should we invite friends over? If so, from church or from work? What traditions did we want to adopt? Was it silly if it was just the two of us? These were the questions that plagued our mind but, ultimately, we came up with a few ideas that have now stood the test of time.
Even if there are only two of you, you are still a family.
We realized that first Christmas that we were a family. A family isn’t created the day you welcome a child into your home, it starts the day you say, “I do.”
When we recognized this, it brought a new element of joy to our celebrations. We weren’t two wanders away from family, we were our own household, deciding how we wanted to celebrate. Our celebrations will inevitably change if/when we have kids or if we get to spend the holidays nearer to family but, no matter what, we established that we have left our families of origin and created something entirely new and beautiful.
There are always people looking for a place.
Our first Thanksgiving, we were the people looking for a place to be. Our small group leaders invited us into their home (despite us only having been at the church for a few weeks) and gave us a place to belong.
That Christmas, we reached out to the men and women in my husband’s unit and opened up our home for Christmas dinner and games. These people quickly became like family because, like us, they were looking for a place to belong.
If you’re in that place this Christmas, the place where you’re not sure where you belong, I encourage you to become the place of belonging. Open up your doors and invite others in. You’d be shocked how many people are looking for a place to spend their holidays.
Break open the game cabinet. Pop a bowl of popcorn. Ask everyone to pitch in and bring something for dinner. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but in giving people a place, you make a new place for yourself as well.
We needed to embrace old traditions and create new ones.
Growing up, my parents always let us open one present on Christmas Eve and, every year, it was new Christmas pajamas. We always knew it was coming but we were still excited and they were glad we’d look presentable in the Christmas morning pictures. So that first Christmas alone, my husband and I bought each other Christmas pajamas. Some years, they’ve been normal looking flannel pants and t-shirts that we would take on an overnight trip. Other years, we’ve ended up with furry, Chewbacca onesies. Both years we’ve found joy in continuing this tradition.
We also decided to continue on with stockings even though Santa obviously does not visit married couples without children. Not only did the hanging of stockings add some beauty to our Christmas décor, but opening them Christmas morning brings a sense of fun and anticipation to the table.
Our Christmases are changing. We are moving closer to family for a little while. Our friend-family we created in Hawaii is scattered now, but they taught us some very important lessons about the holidays and about our marriage.
It wasn’t easy, there were moments of sadness when we realized that the family was probably singing carols by the fire or eating that strawberry pretzel salad that neither of us ever mastered.
But those moments, even the sad ones, inspired us. We took the memories, we took the feeling of belonging, and created a new family and place for ourselves and others to belong. Because of that, we’ve never spent Christmas alone.