The Return of Christmas

I've always loved the holidays. Growing up in Hawaii, where seasonal changes are unremarkable, I delighted in the reliable progression from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas that gives the end of the calendar year its giddy, festive hue. I also kind of assumed that "winter" ended with Christmas, having served its purpose as a quaint backdrop to the cozy tableaux of the season, so I was in for a rude awakening when I packed off to college and experienced my first bitter East Coast that lasted well through Spring Break.

We've spent recent winters in Paris, a city that is as elegantly turned out for the holidays as you would imagine: elaborate department store window displays, pop-up holiday markets where you can warm your hands around a steaming cup of vin chaud (mulled wine), and the occasional overnight snowstorm that lends the famous cityscape a hushed, storybook quality.

My husband has a big, French family -- his mother is one of four; his dad, one of three -- and though I don't consider them my family, being around them at Christmastime is a comfort and a welcome distraction. As anyone who has lost someone dear knows, the season's emphasis on family and fellowship and "coming home" can be a painful reminder of past joys never to be retrieved. The Christmases between when I lost my mother and welcomed my first child were the hardest. I still long for the feeling of coming home to a place where I can regress a little to childhood, tucked cozily under the wing of my parents' care, but now at least I have the little ones to occupy most of my attention (a task they excel at), and the happy prospect of many Christmases ahead with them.

I wanted a last holiday season at home before we transplant to an as-yet-undecided destination in 2019

We're home in Honolulu for Christmas this year. The baby is still too small to travel, and mostly I wanted a last holiday season at home before we transplant to an as-yet-undecided destination in 2019. Christmas in Hawaii has its unique charms: the downtown City Lights, spendidly adorned Waikiki hotel lobbies, Santa's "arrival" via outrigger canoe. There will be no white Christmas, but in exchange, we have the option of spending the morning at the beach. I don't even notice the incongruity of our twinkling Douglas fir against a backdrop of tropical valley foliage anymore.

At 2 and a half, Marcel is still too young to get excited about the approach of Christmas Day, but I know this will change in a year or two, and so I'm starting to imagine what new holiday traditions we might plant and grow in our little family. We are not religious, but I don't want to simply replace Christianity with consumerism. I'm also wary of the whole you'd-better-watch-out, obedience-in-exchange-for-material-rewards dynamic that conventional Christmas culture instills in young children (no Elf on the Shelf in our house!). I think I'd like to foreground the values of connection and creativity in how we celebrate and how we demonstrate our love. Last year, I gifted Marcel a photo book filled with the things and activities he'd begun to identify in the world around him, from our cat, Luna, to the neighborhood garbage truck.

I'm starting to imagine what new holiday traditions we might grow in our little family

This year, I custom-designed fabric based on Marcel's favorite things, and am using it to make matching pajama pants for the boys and their dad (my husband doesn't read this, so it'll still be a surprise).

I'm sure I won't get by with homemade gifts for much longer, but I'm thinking it would be fun to start a DIY-Secret Santa with the kids when they're old enough, where each person would have to come up with a custom gift for their family member recipient -- or maybe I'm the only one that would enjoy this?

Living across cultures and on the outside of religious institutions, we'll have to be creative -- and adaptable -- in how we commemorate the season. And I'll probably have to resign myself to the fact that Christmas doesn't = the end of fact, it's only the beginning.


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