Over the years of being a teacher, I have been asked many times where I’m from. Living in a military town lends itself to that question, as many of my students are not from this area. The population of my school changes with every shift of military personnel. While my father is a Vietnam veteran, he had long since ended his military service by the time I was born, so I cannot claim to know what my students go through when they move with their families every couple of years.
When I think about where I’m from, I don’t acknowledge that I’m technically from Ohio. Nearly every member of both sides of my family live in Ohio, yet, I haven’t lived there since I was four years old. From my memories of childhood, life began in Georgia. And while my family moved to North Carolina when I was in middle school, I still say that I grew up in Georgia. The memories of my past that are the most positive all took place in the peach state. Perhaps the most vivid memories are of Christmases when I still somewhat believed in Santa and my sisters flew down from Ohio to spend a week with us. The three of us would be confined to one bedroom for the duration of the night on Christmas Eve, mostly so they could keep me from peeking into the living room before the big morning surprise.
I never slept very much on those nights. I’m 33 years old and I STILL don’t sleep well on Christmas Eve. The anxiousness of the impending morning excitement keeps me from sleeping past five a.m….every…year. At this point in my life, it has been a very long time since I have spent Christmas with my family. For the past several years, Christmas has consisted of the same people, my husband and his mother. The three of us have established our own Christmas morning tradition. While it is not a day that is jam-packed with large celebrations, the low-key nature of our tradition is peaceful and nice.
As another Christmas season has come again, I am reminded of a photograph that my grandmother recently sent to me. The picture is of my grandfather, raising a glass in a Christmas toast the year before I was born. The Christmases of my childhood featured this man, arriving at our doorstep at five a.m. to play Santa to my sisters and me. When I was finally sprung from the bedroom and allowed to come into the living room, my grandfather would be there with my grandma. He would be dressed in a Christmas shirt and Santa hat, poised and ready to pass out the gifts that were sprawled under the tree. This picture is a contrast to those mornings that I remember with a nostalgic fondness. He and my grandmother had just gotten married and their Christmas celebration featured only the two of them. Christmases in Georgia were still a long way off.
When I received this picture, among other mementos, I looked at it and felt a sense of loneliness. How could Christmas Day be a happy occasion if it didn’t happen the way it always did when I was a child? The bright lights of the tree, the Johnny Mathis Christmas music playing in the background, the sea of presents under the tree, and my family all smiling and exchanging choruses of “Merry Christmas!”? But lately, it has struck me that my husband and I ARE my grandpa and grandma. We have gotten married only a short time ago and we spend our Christmas day very much like I imagine they did.
For my husband and I, this is the time leading up to those Christmas mornings. These are our early days. We are feeling the pressure of time to start our family, and we know with certainty that one day Christmas morning will feature our own children. I won’t be able to sleep on Christmas Eve because I’m excited for what awaits THEM in the morning. But until this becomes our new tradition, I will treasure the time I have with my husband. Our Christmas traditions now are full of love. Just being together is what makes it meaningful to us. I’d like to think that my grandpa’s Christmas toast in that picture was something along the same lines. So, here’s to us.