I Guess I’m the Grownup Now: Christmas Just Hits Different Now That I Have Kids

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Due to circumstances rather than design, my husband and I have spent the last seven Christmases away from our families. At first, this was because we had moved to the U.S. (I’m from Sweden, he’s from England) and couldn’t justify the expense. Then it was because I was pregnant and didn’t want to travel…then because we had a 6-month-old…and finally because of, you know, a global pandemic.

But at last, this holiday season, with two kids in tow, we will be visiting my father in Stockholm. And, well, a lot has changed in the last seven years. My dad may be surprised to learn that I will not be having the beer and julmust (a Swedish cola-like drink) with my Christmas lunch this year—beer just doesn’t sit well with me these days. Or that we no longer enjoy rice pudding for dessert on Christmas Eve, but rather make this our sweet treat the day before so that we can fry up the leftovers for breakfast. But the biggest difference of all? I’m a mom now.

As a parent, not only have I adopted new holiday customs (like splitting up the gifts over a two-day period because we just know our kids won’t be able to handle it all in one day), but I’ve also merged some of my own traditions with those of my husband. (Boxing Day—a British holiday that occurs on December 26—is sacred!)

Bringing these new traditions into my dad’s home gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that he gets to experience Christmas again with my children, which is just about as heartwarming and magical as Hallmark movies would suggest. But I’m also nervous about what he’ll think about some of our new habits, like going out for a long winter walk after breakfast or making a Yule Log for dessert, things I never did growing up. (Not to mention how he’ll react to having two—it has to be said—very shouty kids around the house.)

But in a way, these conflicting emotions about my holiday plans are part of the bigger internal conflict that comes with realizing you are no longer the kid, but rather the grownup in charge of raising tiny humans. This realization can happen any time (like when I see my dad grocery shopping, squinting his eyes to examine the milk options and hobbling ever so slightly), but something about the holidays seems to put this identity shift into hyper-focus.

When we go out to get a tree for the living room this year, I (OK, fine my husband) will likely be the one hauling it up the stairs and stringing up the lights (an activity that was only ever allowed to be done by Dad). When we put out some milk and cookies for Santa, I’ll be the one slurping up the milk and munching down on the cookies after my son goes to sleep. And after all the presents have been ripped open, I’ll be the one stuffing wrapping paper and ribbons into a giant trash bag, reminding the kids to slow down and taking note of who gifted what for thank you cards.

These shifts in responsibility are small, barely noticeable (I can guarantee no one else will think about what happened to all that wrapping paper), but they signal something bigger. A future where Dad can’t pick us up from the airport. Where we gently suggest he get some extra help around the house. And finally, a thought so heartbreaking that I can barely write it down, a time where we won’t feel like we can spend Christmas without him because we won’t know how many he has left.  

And I guess that’s the crux of it—I get warm and fuzzy thinking about the new traditions and memories that I am creating with my own brood, while simultaneously feeling heavy with the realization that all this newness means saying goodbye to the past.

And of course, thinking about my dad’s Christmas traditions makes me think of those of my mom, who died 11 years ago. My heart swells thinking about the way she always had I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas playing as we rushed down the stairs to look inside our stockings. Or the breakfast of gingerbread cookies stacked on top of a Swedish saffron bun. Or her insistence on taking a picture of the kids dressed up in their holiday finest in front of the tree, (much to our teenage dismay). These customs were integral to my childhood, but what I realized the year after she died was that without her, they just…weren’t the same.

We frame Christmas as a holiday of traditions, but the truth is that by its very nature, it’s constantly evolving because so are the participants. At some point, my kids will create their own ways of doing things, and it will be my turn to accept this newness. At some point, the decisions won’t be mine to make. (Just as long as we keep the fried rice pudding, of course.)

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...