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Instead of family Christmas traditions, my son and I do whatever we want. It's made for a more meaningful holiday.

Melissa Drake   

Instead of family Christmas traditions, my son and I do whatever we want. It's made for a more meaningful holiday.
  • When my son was a kid, I started to change up what we did on Christmas.
  • He's grown up, and we still don't have any traditions around the holidays.

In 2002, my son, Johnathan, and I celebrated Christmas alone and on our terms for the first time.

My parents and the rest of my family traveled to Denver to celebrate with my older sister and her family. We couldn't make the trip because Johnathan's father and I had a shared-custody agreement with a Christmas Eve/Christmas Day split.

It was for the best, because I did everything differently that year.

Instead of focusing on cooking a big meal and getting lost in the crowd of a big family, we focused on quality time with each other.

My son was 7, at the age when Christmas gifts piled up only to be quickly dismissed or relegated to the toy box. I planned things so he could open a present every hour throughout the day, to ensure each gift was appreciated and tucked away before the next was opened.

We had lunch with a close friend, ate a luxurious restaurant dinner, and went to church.

It's one of my most memorable and enjoyable celebrations. It was also the first time we celebrated the holiday purposefully, the way we wanted to.

We made minor but meaningful modifications to our Christmas celebrations over the years

After both of my parents died, I completely dropped out of family celebrations, and my son and I committed to doing our own thing each Christmas.

We started with simple changes and additions to our usual Christmas plans that snowballed into unique holiday celebrations. We've celebrated with friends, at different times and even days, with meals like goulash, chili, and lasagna.

Ultimately, we prioritized our chosen families over traditional and obligatory gatherings.

As our lives evolved, our celebrations did too

The dreamer in me moved from Des Moines, Iowa, to Southern California in 2017.

When Johnathan came to visit at Christmastime, our first stop was the dispensary — his first opportunity to shop for legal cannabis. That Christmas we spent time poolside, visited a Korean spa, and enjoyed several new-to-us cuisines. We laughed bunches, danced a ton, and watched a few movies.

As our experiences and connections in SoCal grew, we collided with different cultures and traditions that reinvigorated our holiday celebrations.

My son's fiancée is Latina, and through her family we've welcomed new food including El Salvadoran tamales, fun activities like Christmas karaoke, and practices like opening gifts by the campfire.

Our celebrations became more about choice and presence than obligation

Perhaps the most beautiful result of our changes is the feeling we get from doing things we desire.

The first year my son and his fiancée hosted a holiday, I thanked him for inviting me when I hugged him goodbye. Then I thought, "But you didn't have a choice; I'm your mother."

He saw the wheels turning in my head and asked me what I was thinking. I told him. "But actually, you have a choice," I added.

"Don't get it twisted, Mom," he said. "I don't have to invite you.

"We may be family, and it may be a holiday, but every moment we have together is a choice, and to truly enjoy our time, the option is always mutual," he added. "I invited you because I wanted you here."

I love that my son has never been motivated by guilt or obligation; he's all heart. If something matters to him, he pours himself into it and enjoys it thoroughly. I'm grateful to be one of those things.

I also know my place. I'm not the center of his universe or the leader of his life. He's an adult with his own family, home, profession, and friendships. I'm elated to be part of the equation.

It's a privilege to be invited, poured into, loved, and supported at a celebration of choice. The California sunshine, palm trees, and cultural expansion don't hurt either.


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