December 9, 2012

Traveling with Traditions by Kaitlin Alfermann

This will be my husband's and my fifth Christmas as a married couple. During our first Christmas, we lived in a small apartment in Missouri just a few hours from our families. We had only been married a few months and relished our first Christmas together. When our second Christmas came, we lived in a slightly larger apartment-this time in Mississippi-and drove the 6-8 hours home for the holiday. We had no children, after just over a year of trying, and were preparing for my second surgery just after the new year. Third Christmas-still in Mississippi. Huge and pregnant (praise God!) and our family came down to see us. Forth Christmas-again the 6-8 car trip home but this time with our precious ten month old daughter.

And for this-our fifth Christmas-we're in a rental house in Florida. A whopping 12-14 hours from family. With an almost two-year old and a big, third trimester belly again (praise God again!)

Five years, three states, lots of heartache, even more joy, and too many hours driving to even calculate.

Despite the chaos and the constant change, I long for tradition. I long to look forward to the same, wonderful moments each year and remember them the way they happened in years past. But for us, it just hasn't happened. No Advent or Christmas season has looked even remotely like the one before it. The only thread they seem to have in common is that we get to the Christmas tree lot too late and have to settle on a too-small tree of the cheap variety which never looks quite as majestic as we had hoped.

Most years we've done an Advent wreath. But one year we couldn't even find it. There were years when I decided to keep baby Jesus out of the manger scene until Christmas. But most years He goes in from the beginning-seeing as we'll be hours away from home by the time Christmas actually gets here. I would love to move our three wise men closer to the manger each day until Epiphany, but this year we won't even get back in town until that feast has passed. One year we decided to keep our Christmas tree up until the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus as a way of saying, "Hey, we're Catholic and we know that it's STILL Christmas!" But then last year a move to another new state on January 3rd prevented that one from happening and we took our tree down on the third Sunday of Advent.

Traveling-both to new states and home to see family-makes traditions hard.

I wish I was writing this post from the perspective of an experienced wife and mother who has mastered the art of keeping traditions alive even though we wake up in a different bed on Christmas morning each year. I wish I had a list of suggestions for easing the transition from home to grandma's to other grandma's and back again. I wish, for once, we could celebrate Christmas morning in our own home, under our tree-but still somehow see our family hours away.

Instead, this post is really just lamenting the fact that it's hard. I have no great advice, no profound wisdom. I can only offer nods of the head and an, "I feel ya!" to those who are also in this boat.

But I will say that I've had a small revelation this year. Even if every year-from now until the last of our children has grown-is spent in a different home, even if we still have three states to go before settling down  and buying a house, even if our kids wake up at grandma's one year and their own beds the next-we will still have traditions. We'll still listen to the same music in the car as we travel across the country as we do in our living room at home. We'll still light our Advent candles, even if we have to bring them in the car with us. We'll still open our stockings, no matter whose house we're at. And we'll still teach our children about the birth of Jesus and re-live the miracle in some way each year. Our kids might not have the same Christmas memories that my husband and I were blessed with as children. But, with a little extra effort on my part, they will hopefully remember that Advent and Christmas were always fun, always holy, always bustling with energy and excitement, and always about the birth of their Savior.

Advent might look different every year, but it will still prepare our hearts for Christmas. And I'll just have to trust that whatever kind of Advent we end up having each year will be the exact kind of Advent that our hearts needed at that time.

After all, God knew that after four years of disappointing Christmas trees, we needed a nine foot frasier fir to proudly display in our front window. And this year, we finally got it.
Do you struggle with maintaining traditions due to an ever-changing way of life? Have any tips or advice to share?

Kaitlin Alfermann is happily married to Ted, whose job has something to do with fish, and the mother of Hannah and a little one in the womb.  She lives in the south, has super great curly hair, and is one of those ladies who look like a thin woman with a basketball up her shirt when she's pregnant.  On her blog, More Like Mary - More Like Me, Kaitlin shares her faith and her journey with infertility and motherhood, and strives to build up all marriages with her series "Why I Love My Husband."

For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.


  1. Well, take courage in the fact that at this age things tend to end up being a beautiful blur. You can light up the candles and read/look at a picture anywhere. It's the easiest, simple things than can have the most impact, when done consistently. Your tree is beautiful!

  2. Our first 7-9 years of Christmas' were all over the board. When we had our third, we finally called the insanity quits and started celebrating our Christmas on Christmas Eve and then sorting out all the other Christmas' with families. It is SO hard and difficult because this season is supposed to be joyful. I'm so happy you got your 9-foot Frasier. It's gorgeous!

  3. Been there too. We traveled for years and it was stressful.

    Could you commit to visitng the week before/after Christmas? or at another time ?

  4. I hear ya! I keep saying this is the last year we are traveling for Christmas, yet every year we still travel! I think the traveling, singing Christmas carols in the car, reading Christmas stories on the long drive, etc--those become the traditions.

    Oh, and if you ever want to meet your family half-way, my house is usually empty around Christmas. You and your family are always welcome to celebrate here!

  5. Thanks for sharing this on the Little HolyDays link up too Kaitlin!

  6. We've been married 5 and a half years and, until early this year, we're like you: far from family. We've done it all. We've traveled across the continent to be with extended family, stayed put with just our own little family (always a different house and state), and one particularly hard one with just my baby and my parents while my husband was in Iraq. I long to impart in my children's hearts the true meaning of the season and I still have so much to learn but I have learned a few things: Christmas is only a little bit about being with family, to celebrate it fully is to live the Joy of the Incarnation wherever you are and with whomever you are with. Also, my husband and children are my family. I know that it's important to honor your parents and all they've done for you by making an effort to be with them. But I never ache for my parents and sisters and brothers the way I ached for my husband the year he was gone. Being with family means being with him and everything else is a only an added blessing. Happy Advent! and I love your tree.

  7. we are also far from family, but we don't travel because we have never been able to get the time off of work!
    we are starting New traditions this year

  8. This is a wonderful post, and one I can definitely relate to! Growing up, all of our extended family lived at least 6 hours away (make that 8 hours for a trip with seven kids!). As much as my parents tried to get traditions started, sometimes it just didn't work out. In a way, that has almost become a tradition in itself. With each holiday a little different from the last, we can see the difference between the years (Remember the year we went to Grandma Mac's for Christmas? What about the time Uncle Pete was the one dressed as Santa?). Each Christmas was special in its own way.

    Things have settled down a bit now, especially since ALL of my husband's extended family lives within twenty minutes of each other! While we're happy with how our traditions are coming along, I definitely don't regret our ever changing holidays growing up :)

    Thanks for linking up with Little HolyDays!


  9. Angie-I'll always remember the Christmas we spent at your house! Such a beautiful tree and fireplace for our pictures-even if they weren't ours! Maybe there will be more in the future.

    Anna-your comment made me tear up. You are so right, thanks for that beautiful reminder!