Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas

This column ran in the Dec. 20 News-Gazette.

I’m a Christmas purist. And I don’t much like change.

We open presents on Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve. We get a live tree, never artificial. And we always travel to spend Christmas with our families, come hell or high water — or, usually, deep snowdrifts.Blog Photo

So it’s taken me, oh, 30 years to come around to this year’s holiday plan: staying home for Christmas. At least part of it.

It may sound odd to those who have always awakened in your own beds on Christmas morning rather than an air mattress at Grandma’s, who don’t know the joy of piling your entire holidays into the trunk and wondering what you’ve forgotten.

But my husband and I have been blessed with large families who love spending time together, no more so than over Christmas. We usually wear out the interstates between here, Omaha and St. Louis — dodging blizzards and ice storms along the way — so we can see relatives and old friends.

Each city has its holiday traditions. In Omaha, it’s pizza at La Casa’s, family poker nights, a raucous gift exchange and, of course, a Creighton basketball game.

In St. Louis, it’s lunch at Crown Candy (or Fitz’s), a trip to the City Museum or the zoo (we’re a hardy bunch), the Polar Express read aloud on Christmas Eve, brunch for growing multitudes on Christmas Day.

Our traditions have evolved as children have grown, traveled the world, married and had kids of their own. And our moms, sadly, are no longer with us.

So we’ve adapted. My family had its second biennial “Thanksmas” celebration this year, at my sister’s house. It eased the pressure on nieces and nephews who have to balance in-law obligations at Christmas, sometimes in multiple cities. They moved heaven and earth to get to St. Louis, with first prize going to a niece (and her boyfriend) who flew in from Brazil.

And the traditions survived. We literally drove straight to Crown Candy on Wednesday, had dinner and presents on Thursday, and did brunch, Fitz’s and the City Museum on the weekend.

My husband’s family gathered last weekend for a pre-Christmas celebration in Omaha — complete with La Casa’s, the gift exchange and a mini-family reunion at a Creighton basketball game, which featured a cousin who played for the visiting team.

It’s not exactly the same as the old days. Nothing is quite like Grandma’s house. The important thing is that we get together and make new memories to laugh about next year.

And we’ll build on our Christmas traditions here in Champaign. Things like making gingerbread houses with friends, having brunch with Santa, going to see “The Nutcracker” or “It’s a Wonderful Life,” my annual struggle with the outdoor lights. And putting up our own tree.

I admit I’m less stressed, not having to pack up all our gifts and haul them to another city.

I’m looking forward to Christmas Eve Mass in our own church — the children’s service with lots of singing and toddler antics on the altar. Everyone gets there a half-hour early to find a seat (the teens will love that).Blog Photo

Then we’ll head home for our own Christmas Eve dinner (I’ve already warned everyone to lower their expectations), maybe take a drive to see Christmas lights, and read the Polar Express. But no presents until Christmas morning.

And, just in case it’s too quiet, we’re heading down to St. Louis at some point, too.

Baby steps.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and safe travels this holiday.

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Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or twitter.com/jawurth.

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