By Maggie Phillips
When I was growing up as an Army kid, my dad had a firm rule: we always spent Christmas morning at home. Our home. Maybe we left later in the day or the next day to visit grandparents or other family and friends, b. But he was adamant that we always woke up on Christmas morning in our own beds. There was enough change and uncertainty in military life, so it was nice to have the assurance of one thing during a special time.
The end result is I have a lot of fond memories of Christmas with my family. That scene in Home Alone where the whole family is in an uproar because they are traveling for Christmas? Even as a kid it stressed me out. The idea of the holidays as a stressful time just never really made sense to me, because they weren’t something I associated with packing, transporting presents back and forth, or getting up early to hit the road or catch a flight.
There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
Now, I’ll admit as a military spouse, I haven’t always abided by the same that rule for my own kids. There have been mitigating circumstances, usually deployments (either my dad’s and my husband’s), if I’m remembering correctly. But as my kids get older, we’ve been committing more to sticking to home for the holidays. My children are now all old enough to remember the holidays, so we are firmly in the years where family traditions begin to take root.
Christmas morning at home matters to me because I want my kids to value spending time with us, certainly, but also to understand the value of family. The great paradox comes from wanting my kids to want to create their own memories and traditions with their families someday. In my experience, this desire will be precisely because they loved Christmas at home with us so much.
Of course, extended family is important. Christmas morning at home doesn’t have to mean celebrating in seclusion. I have plenty of memories of spending time with grandparents and cousins at Christmas time. There’s always that weird twilight zone between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, so striking out after Christmas morning to see them can be a great way to keep the festivities and anticipation going.
Do We Need a Little Christmas Now?
If I had to guess, I think part of the urge to travel ahead of Christmas Day comes from the idea that Christmas is just one day. I also have a theory that it’s behind the desire to deck the halls the day after Halloween. Historically, however, Christmas was a days-long festival.
The 12 days of Christmas? That’s a real thing. It starts on Christmas Day and ends on January 6th, the celebration of the Three Magi visiting the baby Jesus, also called Epiphany. Check out this explainer, which gives some background on the beliefs behind 12 days of Christmas. There are also many cultures that actually open presents on January 6th.
If you wanted to be really old school and keep the party going, some Christian cultures traditionally kept up Christmas decorations until Candlemas on February 2nd. In some European countries, it was also a date traditionally associated with predicting how long winter would stick around and light would return. Sound familiar? That’s right. You can decorate for Christmas later, and then keep your Christmas decorations up until Groundhog Day. Then, if your HOA or garrison housing office complains, you can explain that “it’s actually historically accurate, okay,” and demand that you be allowed to leave up your decorations on grounds of religious freedom.
Not really. Or do, and let me know how it works out for you. But don’t tell them it was my idea.
Someday Soon, We All Will Be Together
For military families, and especially military kids, the only thing that’s guaranteed is change. A holiday morning in their own house with their own things around them can help provide a sense of consistency. At least, it did (and has) for me. Additionally, thinking of Christmas not as not the end of a period of anticipation, but the kickoff to a period of celebration with family, can help alleviate some of the holiday stress. If I can pass on this philosophy on to my kids, — and that means when they’re grown and out of the house, I don’t see them till December 26th, — I’m alright with that.
About Maggie Phillips
Maggie is an Army spouse and mom of three. She writes for Tablet magazine as part of a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation to increase religious literacy. Her work has appeared in The Leaven, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Army magazine, NextGen MilSpouse, Military Mom Collective, Military Spouse magazine online, and elsewhere. When she can get a babysitter, Maggie also does stand-up comedy, a subsidized hobby that usually just about pays for the babysitter. Follow her on Instagram at @maggies_words, on Twitter at @maggiemphillips, and at mrsmaggiephillips.com. Opinions her own.