For some people, who they spend their Christmas with is the easiest decision in the world. This is a season for family, so you obviously spend it with those closest to you. Like many people of my generation, however, Christmas has always been a tumultuous time in this regard.
When I was a young boy growing up in the northwest of England, I can remember my parents arguing about which of their families we’d spend time with that year. Invariably, Christmas Eve was spent with my maternal grandmother and this was something I always looked forward to. It was a big family gathering where we’d meet all of our cousins, eat hot dogs, and sometimes, if we were lucky, granddad would sneak a handful of coins into our hands and let us play on the vintage slot machine he restored and kept in the basement. Christmas Day, however, was always a matter of contention for my folks. As I got a little older and my parents got considerably less married, this annual parental debate was supplanted by a discussion about where my brother and I would spend Christmas. Conflict resolution was as much a part of the season as Father Christmas or the school nativity play.
I didn’t know it then, but these decisions are a difficult part of the festive season for so many families that it’s just a normal part of life. As adults, we manage this arbitration and allocate our time with the care and diplomacy that the season demands. We all make difficult decisions, not just about who to spend our time with but also about who we will disappoint. Yes, I always look forward to the season, but I also dread it a little, too.
In recent years, a combination of things has changed how I look at all of this. Firstly, I moved to Alberta from the UK about six years ago and 6,500 kilometres certainly adds some considerations to any Christmas travel decisions. Secondly, thanks to being immunocompromised, COVID-19 has made travel at worst impossible, and at best unwise. My granddad might have encouraged a little light gambling on his vintage slot machine, but he taught me better than to wager my life. Ultimately these difficult decisions, the ones I’ve always dreaded, were taken out of my hands.
Thankfully, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a new family here in Alberta. For the last few years, I have been welcomed into the homes of my in-laws and slowly we are building new traditions. I won’t get to eat hot dogs with my cousins anymore (at 42, I’m probably a little too old for that anyway); now it’s a spiced rum or mulled wine with my brother-in-law as we walk the dogs after a hefty dinner.
I never thought I’d miss those difficult decisions which caused me so much anguish, but in moving to Canada I’ve come to realize how lucky I have been to have so many choices throughout my life. This year I’ll still be thousands of kilometres from home, but I’ll still be with my family.