A couple weeks ago, when we were preparing to leave for our three-month trip, I didn't think through how we would spend the holidays, far away from loved ones. Thankfully, a certain someone had a discussion with his dad, and they pulled together the sweetest solution.
Pack a Few Special Decorations
When we arrived at our destination, to my utter surprise, a small Christmas wreath, bell, stockings, presents, and Christmas music emerged from our luggage. I cannot begin to express how dear this felt.
Since then, fun, beautiful, and sweet holiday music has been playing. And simply looking at these holiday decorations makes us feel loved and not so far away.
Travel note: They took up relatively little packing space!
Funny, when I downsized my life to 3 bags, I thought I handed all holiday decorations back to family. Yet, I completely forgot that I saved two little Swedish Christmas dolls and one of my grandma's linens. I found them stuffed in my suitcase. I love that I can add them to this mix!
What if decorations are not packable?
As a child, when my family was traveling full-time, we children were briefly worried about Christmas. Our Christmas decorations were not with us! How would Santa find us?
My dad reassured us with a perfect solution: We'd hand-string popcorn and cranberries and drape them on a tree (just like in the "olden" days), plus hang all the Christmas cards we received. This created the happiest tree decorating memory and one of the most beautiful Christmas trees ever.
This year (because I've had the flu), we found the poinsettia above at the local market, and it's filling in as our Christmas tree. But I also love the idea of bringing greenery in from the outdoors to decorate with, or decorating an outdoor tree for the birds (a favorite!).
Talk About Favorite Childhood Traditions
We do this a lot. It helps us remember something meaningful and brings us emotionally closer to our young selves, each other, and to those we care about. I think my favorite part is noting what our parents and grandparents have thought, felt, said, and done during the holidays, so we remember another's experiences and values.
Have Fun Believing in Santa
Because who doesn't have fun believing in kind things? Why not have fun carrying on our parents' tradition, for ourselves and for those around us, no matter how old we are?
I like to joke that I can't wait for Santa to arrive, that we better get to bed on time so Santa can drop by, and I like to place gifts from "Santa" into stockings. It's innocent, lovely fun, and I'm pretty sure that with children everywhere we go, it's the right thing for their little ears to hear.
Grow a Tradition in a Healthy Direction
I faithfully watched a few holiday movies while growing up, which hold dear memories. But their themes also left me feeling a little fearful as a child.
So when I discovered Miracle on 34th Street, I knew I'd found a wonderful holiday film to transition to. It's intelligent, hopeful and loving.
We rented it online this last week, and a certain someone (who had never heard of it before) proclaimed he was now a convert.
Fill Stockings Full of Favorite Treats
Growing up, I loved that Santa always placed little Mandarin oranges in our Christmas stockings, along with a roll of scotch tape, and a box of our favorite chocolates.
So to feel close to my family, we went to our local market and collected some of these favorite little items (now in gluten-free and plant-based versions). And it was so special to seek them out.
Follow Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Family Patterns
In honor of our Swedish grandparents (who traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve), we opened one stocking on Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, we opened all other goodies, after Santa had arrived, of course.
Honoring this tradition that our families imprinted on our lives makes us feel warm and close to them. It's like that saying: when you're cold, you have to put on a coat to warm up...warmth can't just happen on its own.
What About Gift Tags and Wrapping Paper?
In honor of my parent’s tradition to always spend the exact same amount of money on each child, I bought doubles of most gifts. So we each received one. If there was a single gift, it was meant to be shared.
Thus, we didn't even need gift tags or wrapping paper. We simply hid all our little gifts in the Christmas stockings, unwrapped. It was also the eco thing to do.
Then we each took turns reaching our hands into the stockings (without peeking), to pull out one surprise at a time. A certain someone had also bought gifts for us, so we both had fun being surprised.
This was so much fun, making us feel like kids on Christmas (just like we think our parents would want us to feel).
What Were Some of the Presents that Santa Dropped Off?
little Mandarin oranges (of course!)
miniature box of (gluten-free and plant-based) chocolates
lingonberry sauce (a Swedish favorite with sugar, so it's a rare treat)
healthy food bars (which we'd not been able to find since our trip to NYC...how did Santa know?!)
a tiny travel can opener (because Santa somehow knew my old one was too big)
a new travel knife (because Santa clearly discovered I'd lost mine)
an amazing travel cutting-board-and-food-container-in-one
And we unwrapped the sweetest gifts sent from home.
But What About the Family Christmas Dinner?
Doesn't everyone have one of these? Warm and inviting? Or filled with crazy stories? How can one replicate it from afar?
Since we're temporarily in an Airbnb that doesn’t have a kitchen, eating in was not an option. We did the next best thing (after my coughing was controlled with medicine).
We made reservations at a restaurant that was scheduled to be open on Christmas day. I don't believe I've ever done this before.
We sat smack dab in the middle of the dining room full of people and noticed that it reminded us of family gatherings during annual Christmas dinners.
Thus it was. You just have to believe.