Christmas time can mean many different things to many different people. When my family moved to Iowa back in the late 1980’s the configuration of our Christmas holidays changed dramatically. Instead of hopping in the car and driving a few short miles to one of my grandparents’ house we began what we called the Great Triangle. We loaded up the car with suitcases and snacks and began the 18 hour drive from Iowa City, IA, over to Chicago and then down to Savannah (one-way).
I’m not even gonna hold ya, it was hard, y’all. I envied my friends and classmates who told stories of fun family traditions they carried out every year. I was jealous of others who came back from the holiday talking about the family trip to Disney World or Europe or some other destination that sounded so cool and amazing to my young ears.
The last thing in the world I wanted was to find myself in a situation where they asked me what I did and all I had to say was that we drove forever and split time between my two grandparents’ houses on opposite ends of the country.
I was young.
I didn’t understand then like I do now that those trips were necessary to keep us connected to our larger family of support.
As the years rolled by and my brother and I began our independent journeys into adulthood, we found ourselves making different choices for the holidays. Sometimes we just didn’t have the money to make it to Chicago or Savannah. Sometimes we felt it necessary to prioritize Christmas with our in-laws. I remember some years there where it seemed like no matter what decision we made, someone was disappointed and it weighed on us.
I remember the year that broke the camel’s back for my husband and I. We had every intention of making one of our big drives to see one part of our families and the day before we both looked at each other and had to admit that we were too tired to drive anywhere. We were trying to press and make it because we felt obligated to do so and it was not only stressing out our bodies, but also our bank account. We called our family and made our apologies and proceeded to have one of the best Christmases ever!
Something had to change.
We decided that we were putting way too much pressure on ourselves to travel to our various family clans during the major holidays. I mean, some years we actually split up to try to be present with each of our families which NEVER set right with either of us. Our first decision was that we had to talk with our families and come up with a better solution.
1. We identified which times of the year were best to focus on spending time with certain regional pockets of families. We considered people’s work schedules and general availability.
2. We also began the process of informing people when we would be in region and invited them to come meet up with us rather than try to run around to catch everyone once we arrived in town. If we’ve driven between 5-10 hours you can drive across town to see us, or you can miss us.
3. We came to agreement with some family members to rotate hosting duties so that we weren’t the ones who always had to travel long distances during the holidays. BEST DECISION EVER! For the first time in our adult lives we suddenly had the opportunity to experience all the neat Christmas traditions in the town we call home base.
4. We threw a lot of the “Christmas traditions” that felt obligatory and were stealing the joy and wonder of the holidays from us.
Every year we get a little bit better at focusing on the things that matter most for us during the holidays. We actually look for other times during the year when we can pop in for shorter visits with our families especially when we can leverage those visits against work-related travel.
Now we look forward to the holidays much more and we actually return from vacation far more refreshed and energized for work.
Our approach might not work for others but it really helped us and it made room for us to create our own family traditions for just the two of us and that has been very nice. This year we had the opportunity to host my parents for Christmas and it has been pure joy.
As we step into 2022 I hope that you all are well and prioritizing the things that are most important to you. If you’re feeling exhausted rather than energized try to take a pause really examine if you’re dragging obligatory things into the new year and figure out if you need to leave some things behind in 2021 to level up your life. Seek joy, and if something is weighing you down and you can’t get past it on your own, please ask someone for help. Let’s move forward together and work to do better.
Marta is an award winning filmmaker, writer and producer committed to sharing the rich and complex stories of America’s Heartland region. Marta wears several hats as Chief Creative-in-Charge of MartaGwyn Productions, LLC as well as the Co-Founder and Senior Grant Writer of Youngblood and Associates, LLC and Chief Operations Officer of Marta Collier Educational Systems and Services, LLC.
Marta is also the founder and editor-in-chief of TheWRITEaddiction. An online community of writers that publish creative and inspirational works daily at www.TheWriteAddiction.com.
Marta is an alumna of The Ohio State University and Tougaloo College with degrees in Sociology and English-Journalism and resides in Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband and unconventional college sweetheart of 10 years, Terrance Youngblood.