Always Until Now: Thoughts on My First Christmas Away From My Family

It’s the day after Christmas.  This was the first Christmas I’ve ever spent with my husband, and the first I’ve ever not spent with my parents and siblings.  It was weird and nice all at the same time.

I missed my own family more than I expected to.  I’m comfortable in routines, and Christopher and I have pretty much fallen into our own, so I figured I’d be fine.  And I was, but I wondered what my family was doing a lot more than I thought I would.  It was just strange — even though I’ve been out of the house more often than not for about 4 years now, I’ve always been home for Christmas.  Always until now.

A lot of the weirdness came from the differences in how our families celebrate Christmas.  I mean, we do all the basic things the same — exchange gifts, have turkey, go visit family.  But the details are different.  My family has always been pretty modest about gift-giving, in both our immediate and extended families.  My mom enjoys doing one or two bigger gifts and lots of little, thoughtful gifts for us kids, especially as we’ve gotten older and more expensive.  I’ve inherited that from her, I think.  Small gifts are more fun for me to buy and give than big-ticket items, because to me it says I noticed this thing and thought of you.  (And it does help that it’s cheaper, obviously.)  And in our extended families, we do exchange gifts, but we draw names, or do smaller things, and spend most of our time sitting around chatting and eating.  The get-together is the goal, and the gifts are more of the afterthought or the excuse.

His family, on the other hand, is a lot more extravagant about their gift-giving.  His parents love to spoil all their children, especially the one grandkid, and they have always done really large, nice gifts for Christmas too — and a lot of them.  His brother’s family is the same, although they achieve that by shopping all year round.  Apparently, if you do that, it’s way easier to create a literal mountain of gifts around the tree.  I’ve learned most of his family goes all out for occasions like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s, too.  I don’t understand where they get the ideas for all of these gifts — this Christmas made me acutely aware of my own inferiority in that department.  I’m getting better at gift-giving, but I’ve never been that good, and apparently I have a long way to go if I want to keep up with his family.

In spite of my new insecurities, Chris and I have both truly been blessed with the families we’ve been born into.  The more I get to know his family, the more I stand by that.  I love my own family dearly even though they sometimes drive me insane, and I really could not ask for better in-laws.  (My in-laws let us get married at their house, for goodness’ sake — my entire extended family and lots of family friends invaded their home for several hours and they were totally cool about it.)  Actually, as I’m writing this, I’m remembering that instead of focusing on the differences between our families, I should be appreciating everything they do for us.  I could definitely do with intentionally appreciating my own family more often.

It also occurred to me that marrying into a new family is a lot like moving to a new country.  When I was getting ready to study abroad in Costa Rica, I heard a lot about alleviating culture shock.  The best way to do this is to go into the new situation expecting it to be different than what you’ve always known, and being open to enjoying the differences and trying new things.  The easiest way to hate going somewhere new is to spend the entire time pointing out how different everything is, and how much better everything is back home.  You just can’t compare things like that if you want to enjoy yourself.  You have the embrace the differences.

That’s what I need to be doing.  Because I love new cultures, I love comparing how things are different, and it’s okay to do that.  What’s not okay is getting bogged down in the differences and focusing on them.  As I become more of an adult every day, I’m trying to emulate one of my best friends, who is the most positive person I have ever met.  Recognizing my negative tendencies and turning them around is one of the only ways I can have healthy relationships, especially with my husband.  My negativity affects us more than anyone else, so I’m trying to do better.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been trying my hand at gratitude journaling.  It’s been going okay, but I’ve noticed I list the same things every few days, and that gets old.  But I really want to keep it up, and that’s why I’m especially thankful that my new sister-in-law gifted me a dedicated gratitude journal for Christmas.  (Somehow, his family already knows me very well.)  This journal has a theme for each month, along with pages for regular journaling in addition to the lists.  I’m excited to start using it, and it can be the perfect stepping stone to a more grateful attitude in 2018.


  1. Speaking of appreciating family, I realised that moving off for college and living on my own has made me appreciate my parents a lot more than I used to. Seeing my mum burst into tears when I asked her if she’d miss me really made me realise how my parents actually care for my welfare, too. Maybe, as the adage goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Happy holidays!

    • When my mom dropped me off at college in 1980 and she started getting teary eyed, I said “Pull yourself together mom, you’re embarrassing me.” Wish I could take that one back. She died a few years later.

  2. I quickly got bored with gratitude journaling. Like you, I wondered how many times I could say I was thankful for my family. Instead, I’ve made a conscious decision to instill more gratitude into my blogging. It’s still pessimistic and self-loathing, but it’s better than it used to be. Merry Christmas.

  3. I’m glad that my 12 step recovery has taught me to focus on the similarities. The last 17 years have been a lot of holidays without my family, and looking at the similarities has helped me get through. (It also helped me get through the Christmas holiday with my family for the first time in forever😁)

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