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Missing Christmas? We Don’t Think So!

If you’ve been following our quick posts on Facebook and Instagram, you’ve noticed that life has been a little (a lot?) scattered for the D’Annolfo family over the past couple of weeks.

In addition to my birthday on December 15, our youngest, Kassidy, graduated from The Ohio State University on that same day. My parents drove in from upstate New York to share the excitement with us, making for a fun-filled, crazy weekend.

Yesterday, Kassidy and her boyfriend, Ben, took off for Thailand, the first stop on a multi-country adventure for them both. We’ll have more on that later – as soon as my mother’s heart stops pounding. (Have you seen Taken?)

The preparations for that 8-week trip had Kassidy running around in organized chaos. Which made our decision to celebrate Christmas in Mexico either inspired or insane, depending on your perspective.

Holidays in the D’Annolfo household have always been small and intimate. In the early years, Jeff was stationed in Florida, and both sets of families were far away in New Jersey and upstate New York. While we were joined occasionally by a few family members in search of a break from winter weather, it was generally just the two of us. Then three. And finally, four.

We established our own traditions, completely avoiding the stress that comes from trying to squeeze in visits to multiple households over a two-day period, complete with crying, stressed-out kids, pot-luck contributions, and gifts for all and sundry.

Instead, we awoke in the early morning hours to the cheerful voices of our little ones, spent most of the day in our pajamas, and drove around in search of Christmas lights after a dinner menu that suited us just fine. No stress.

Even when we moved to Ohio, most holidays were spent at home. We might travel for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, but never both.

We would tramp to a local tree farm in search of the perfect tree, Jeff would perch on a ladder to light up the house on the first snow-free day, and stockings would be hung with care.

Kassidy and I would churn out dozens upon dozens of cookies for our friend-families (framilies?), while Jeff and Zach ate as many as they could sneak when we weren’t looking.

Over the years we were joined by exchange students from four different countries, including our beloved Anne Sofie, who shared Danish traditions that we cling to even though she is now far away.

Those are some of my most cherished memories.

But we have begun a new chapter now that both kids are adults. Neither is married, but both have friends and are beginning to create their own lives. We are in that in-between time, the one with adult children who do not yet have children. Family is still precious, but the dynamics are shifting.

So this year, we decided to leave our traditional Christmas behind and head to Mexico. Can you hear the gasps?

“You’re missing Christmas?” exclaimed one well-intentioned friend. “What will you do about Christmas?” asked another, her voice in a horrified whisper.

“Well,” I pointed out, “Christmas will still come on December 25th. It’s not as if the days change south of the border.”

But the lights? The tree? Presents? You would have thought that we were suggesting cancelling the holiday altogether.

We beg to differ. This was arguably one of the best Christmas holidays our family has spent together in years. While the day began with an early departure from the airport, we ended up with lobster on the beach, followed by delectable desserts delivered to our room by a smiling waiter.

We hung out by the pool, played beach volleyball, drank mojitos.

Jeff and I woke up early Christmas Eve morning to stroll down to the beach with freshly-brewed coffee – just to catch a spectacular sunrise. Followed by a snooze in the early morning sun.

Amazingly enough, the Excellence Riviera Cancun had a Christmas tree. With lights. Check.

The hotel – aptly named Excellence – hosted a Christmas Eve extravaganza, complete with La Posada – a parade re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem and their search for shelter to await the birth of the Christ child.

We spent a wonderful evening together. And we missed nothing.

Our family laughed together. And we played together. We smiled. We joked. We grew closer than we have been for many years. There was no stress. Just time well spent reconnecting.

Not every family is a Normal Rockwell painting. We grow and we change. We drift together, and we drift apart. I think it is harder to maintain closeness as our children grow older. They have their lives, and ours no longer revolve around them.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

So this Christmas, when faced with the inevitable “Didn’t you miss having Christmas?”, I can reply with a heartfelt “No.” Because this Christmas, I received the one gift that went beyond trees and lights and wrapping paper and the stress of shopping malls and Cyber Monday – time with my family.

Just more proof that we are better together.

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