The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present

I decided to make some holiday magic this past weekend. My daughter and I got a tree. We put up some lights. Listened to Christmas tunes. Danced a bit. But I have to admit, I’ve been having a tough time lately. I’ve been thinking about my family holiday traditions when I was a kid. And then comparing it to what my daughter has as her holiday experience. And it leaves me wistful and less than jolly.

I’m grappling with the fact that there is no way for my daughter to have the same Christmas every year. My daughter doesn’t have cousins in Connecticut. My entire family lives in the Midwest. My ex-husband has more family in Connecticut but no immediate family here – they are all in the South or on the West Coast.  So seeing family for the holidays means flying, a lot. Also, as a divorced parent, I have to split holidays with my ex-husband. The split Christmas means that some years, like this one, I’m spending actual Christmas without my kid.  Which is hard.  REALLY hard.  I don’t know how it’ll go.

I have decided to do my best to build our own traditions. Because I miss my childhood traditions. A lot. And I want my daughter to have the best holiday memories possible.

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As a kid, a month or so before Christmas, we would circle toys in the Sears catalog for Santa. And watch all the commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. We made a detailed list for our annual Santa letter.

I have started a tradition of taking my daughter to Barnes and Noble.  I let her look at toys and books (my preferred present) and tell me what she wants from Santa.  Barnes and Noble may be the perfect store.  Unlike Target, the toy section is blessedly small and the children’s book section is massive.  I can look at books for myself.  A little secret, I rarely buy the toys and books at Barnes and Noble.  I try to hit my local book and toy stores. But it’s a a great place to get ideas and I get to have a latte or peppermint hot chocolate while browsing.  It’s a pure parenting win.  I also take my daughter to our local Girl Scout craft fair.  I set her loose with $10 so she can buy presents for her dad and me.

This year I started a tradition of buying myself a couple of presents. Things I want but don’t necessarily need.  Things I love at holiday markets or pottery stores.  Books.  I wrap them with pretty paper and open them on Christmas morning.


We always baked about 8 or 9 different kinds of Christmas cookies with my mom every Christmas season. (You heard me, 8 or 9!) Usually we made them in one weekend. Including expertly shaped and decorated sugar cookies. My mom is a baking goddess and all-around culinary genius. I can hold my own, but, as a single, working parent, I can easily get in over my head.

These days I let my daughter pick two kinds of cookies. I pick one for myself (she doesn’t love molasses cookies with coffee icing the way I do). We spend a whole Saturday baking them together with Christmas music on the radio. It’s magical.

The Tree

When I was a kid, we had a gigantic plastic tree covered in beautiful glass ornaments and lights. Plastic, because my mom is terribly allergic to all pine trees.

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I LOVE a real tree. I love the smell and the way it looks, well, real. But, in the spirit of being easy on myself, I don’t do a conventional tree. Mainly because of the hauling and the standing and the needles and the watering and… the cats. Instead, I buy a Norfolk Island Pine in a pot. Takes very little watering. Survives our Midwest trip. The cats have totally left it alone for the last few years.  Fingers crossed they continue this behavior.

Also gone are the fragile glass ornaments that my mom adores.  (Did I mention the cats?)  Instead, my daughter and I have amassed a collection of unique (and largely unbreakable) ornaments.  Mostly owls and foxes with a few stars and Hello Kitty ornaments thrown in for pizzazz.  We have made a tradition of making or buying a new ornament each year. This year, we made paper star garlands. And we painted snowman rocks.

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The Big Day

When I was a kid, we always did Christmas Eve at my dad’s parents’ house. My sister and I were the youngest of 17 grandchildren. My parents always made us leave our presents at home. So we would open the pair of slipper socks or box of chocolate covered cherries we got from our grandma and grandpa (which, looking back, was so generous of them given the sheer amount of grandkids). We would watch my older cousins open all of their family presents and I would get so jealous.

When we got home that night, my parents would let my sister, brother, and me each pick out one present to open. We would set cookies out for Santa and watch Rudolph on TV. We would stay up late and get up early. On Christmas morning, we would eat cinnamon rolls and would open the rest of our loot and play until a huge family dinner complete with our entire extended family from the night before converging on our house.

I have kept the tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve. The Rudolph watching. And the setting out cookies for Santa. The rest of the holiday looks totally different.  We try to skip the present opening sessions at other people’s houses.  I want to put off the inevitable present competition as long as possible.  As I mentioned above, this year, I don’t get Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with my daughter. Because I had them last year.  This is the first year that I don’t get to watch her open her presents from Santa.  I’m really sad about it but I have to make the best of it.  I’ll FaceTime with her after she opens her presents.  Just like her dad did last year. Life will go on.

So, my daughter is opening presents from me on the 22nd, from Santa on Christmas Day down south with her dad (I’m sending her presents from Santa that I bought), and from my family when we fly to visit them in the Midwest on the 27th.  Although this is untraditional, my daughter effectively gets the joy of three Christmases. And the holiday with both of her extended families. (And two huge airplane trips over her break! Thankfully, she’s a pro at air travel.)

We are celebrating Christmas both early and late culminating in a New Years Eve bash with close friends, fancy cheese, cookies, and sparkling cider for dinner.

For myself, I have planned a Christmas Eve run.  Christmas morning, I’m baking cinnamon rolls and drinking fancy coffee.  I’m going to build a fire, open my presents to myself, and watch Outlander.  Then, I’m having Christmas dinner with my best friend’s big Italian family.  I’m bringing pumpkin pie and gingerbread biscotti.

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My daughter is not going to have the same Christmas experience that I had. That’s totally ok.  (It really is!) Christmas is when, where, and how you make it.  I’m resolving to do my best to cultivate the most joy I (reasonably) can this season.

One thought on “The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present

  1. Love all the photos and enjoyed reading about your childhood traditions (I totally remember the catalogs, but for us it was the JCPenney catalog we looked forward to lol!). Sounds like you have a lot of great traditions you’re creating for your daughter too. Way to make the season as magical as possible ❤


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