‘Twas the night before faux Christmas, and all through the hotel suite, creatures were stirring to make my family’s eclectic Christmas pretty neat. The stockings were hung off the dresser knobs with care, in hopes that St. Nick would somehow find us there– at the Residence Inn in Dover, Delaware three weeks before the 25th.
My mom proposed the idea in July.
Even though we are a small family, we live far enough apart that we need a coordinated plan: My older brother and sister-in-law live in New Jersey, my parents in Arizona, and my fiancé and I live in Virginia.
This year, we wanted to avoid flying during the holiday rush, and allow ourselves to more easily split our time with our significant others’ side of the family.
My mom picked a city smack in between her children’s homes on the east coast, resulting in drives about the same size as the stacks of presents she has given us every year of our lives.
The worries about a lackluster Christmas started creeping in after we had figured out all the logistics. I listed the negatives in my head: No Christmas tree, no roof to hang any lights on, no Christmas specials on TV, no home videos to laugh over and no favorite Christmas storybooks – a suitcase can only hold so much.
Would time spent in a hotel in Dover really fill me with all the good feelings Christmas normally does?
And so I was pretty shocked when I walked into our room on the 4th floor.
The place was covered in Christmas decorations — garland in my college’s maroon and gold colors draped over the hotel art, Santa’s sleigh on top of the fridge.
I was floored to see that I remembered so many of the holiday knick-knacks from my childhood. My mom, dad and brother did not just buy a bunch of decorations the day before at a dollar store — they brought things that we would all smile over, remembering past Christmases together.
There were even things I did not know existed, like Christmas lists I had written as a child, or stuff I had thought was thrown away a long time ago – like my mom-mom’s Santa statue and the small pink Christmas tree I bought for my dorm room.
Once we realized it was, in fact, faux Christmas Eve, we got into the swing of family tradition: Opening one present the night before.
Jim (my brother) and I used to take the whole week before Christmas examining our wrapped piles, weighing our options. We had it down to a science: The objective was to find the most ideal present to keep us entertained until we could push away the excitement and fall asleep.
Thanks to my new, grad-school, grown-up relationship with Jim, he handed me a gift bag, knowing it was the right one to meet our old objective. It was a bottle of wine from my favorite winery near his house in New Jersey, and a picture worth a million words – my sister-in-law’s ultra-sound image.
Jim’s faux Christmas Eve gift for me held a one-two punch – endless fascination in the picture of the baby to be born in April, and a little wine to help me fall asleep easily on a different bed.
As it turns out, we didn’t need the Christmas specials or storybooks to remind us of what really matters at Christmastime — we got to live the experience.
If you strip it away to only the people that you love, and a hodge-podge of items that make you smile because they represent memories you shared with your family, Christmas remains the same lovely thing it has always been.
It could be argued that a faux Christmas is even better than the real thing – because it confirms the lessons from your childhood are true. Presents or not, other selfish expectations or not, at Christmas, you should be grateful and simply love all the people around you.
Celebrating Christmas with my family in a hotel on December 2nd erased all ideas I had that a certain time and special place make Christmas what it is.
Our faux Christmas came with plenty of ribbons, boxes, packages and tags, yet my heart still grew three sizes that day upon discovering the same thing the Grinch did as he listened to the Whos sing: “Christmas day is in our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp!”
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