When my husband and I were first married, holidays were always exhausting. We were young, childless, and not responsible for hosting any gatherings, so they should have been easy, but at the time, our parents lived in the same town, so our whole visit home was spent traveling back and forth between houses, with each mother subtly implying that the other family was claiming more of our time. I have vivid memories of being newly pregnant with my first daughter and having to pull over several times on the trips back and forth because I was dealing with horrendous morning sickness and the constant time in the car was NOT helping, but we needed to visit with everyone.
Our first Christmas with a baby in tow was even worse. I was the kind of end-of-fall-semester tired that only teachers know, I was a new mom on top of that, and I spent the entirety of my Christmas break, shopping, wrapping, traveling, and trying to maintain positivity while my stress and a lack of routine turned my otherwise easy-going baby into an ornery monster.
When my parents moved back home to Pennsylvania, I thought things would be a little easier. We’d have to take turns visiting families, which meant less opportunity to see everyone but also less back and forth. While the stress caused by hopping from house to house was diminished, my daughter was now being spoiled with far too many toys by all of our relatives, and figuring out the logistics of getting all those toys home was a nightmare. One year I was outrageously upset over a large toy that had been gifted without any consideration for how we were supposed to fit it in the car to take it home. We ended up having to pay close to what the toy was worth just to ship it home. I got weary of having to remind people that we didn’t need things or of others implying that I was being ungrateful.
When I became pregnant with my second daughter, I finally put my foot down. I was tired of losing my much-needed winter break to travel, chaos, and stress. I declared that we would no longer travel for Christmas. I was still willing to take turns with our families for Thanksgiving, and anyone who wanted to come visit us for Christmas was more than welcome – I would make room – but I would no longer shift Christmas elsewhere. Santa wasn’t going to drop packages off at someone else’s house or come early because we wanted to go somewhere else.
He was only going to be able to find us if we were at home in our own beds on Christmas Eve.
While once or twice my refusal to budge on my travel rule has caused some tension with family, I have come to the realization that establishing this boundary was essential for my mental health. While the holidays are still pretty stressful because I’m trying to purchase and ship gifts, attend Christmas pageants and socials, wrap up the semester (literally and figuratively), and dodge students asking how they can bring up their grade at the 11th hour, making the decision to keep Christmas at home has profoundly reduced the pressure and increased the enjoyability of the season for me.
Maybe someday when my girls are older and Santa has fewer toys and details to worry about, I’ll let my travel rule slide, but as long as they believe in the magic, the magic will happen at our house.