Holiday traditions, old and new

So writing wasn’t happening Monday night (let’s be honest, it wasn’t really happening last night either. Apologies for the resulting incoherence), so it’s a Wednesday/Friday post week because it’s my blog and I can make the rules! Also that works out just fine because I’m going to be at a holiday party for my side gig tonight so no writing’s happening. ANYWAY.

I’ve been listening to Christmas music since the properly-appointed time of after Thanksgiving and got into the decorating groove last weekend. This got me thinking about holiday traditions, and what’s new this year now that I’m on the FI path.

Happy golden days of yore

I come from a family of maximizers, particularly when it comes to the holidays. Growing up, Christmas was a Big Deal. The five of us piled into our minivan and went on a week and a half tour of what seemed like all of Ohio (my mom grew up there and much of her extended family is still there, scattered all over); we always spent Christmas at my mom’s parents’ and went to Christmas Eve service at the tiny little small-town church where my grandfather was a pastor. After that we drove around visiting family and sometimes my parents’ college friends and my childhood best friend (her mom was my mom’s boss and the two of them were also friends) who moved up to Michigan right before middle school. And before or after the Ohio part we’d stop by one of my dad’s sister’s house in West Virginia and also sometimes my paternal grandparents’ condo in the mountains in NC, particularly if others of my dad’s sisters were going to be there.

It was a whirlwind adventure every year and I loved it. Also, if we were lucky, we got a white Christmas in Ohio, which was sometimes the only snow we saw all year. #southernproblems

Was I delighted about getting our first snow last weekend? Absolutely!

That stopped a few years after my grandmother died (fuck cancer, by the way. Doubly so for both of my grandmothers but I digress). Without her, my grandfather’s pack rat/Depression-era hoarding tendencies came out in full force and our job for the first 12 hours or so after arriving at my grandfather’s was to vacuum and dust and clean and wheedle and beg my grandfather to throw enough food out that we could clear off one shelf in the fridge and go to the grocery store to buy things that weren’t expired. Essentially we had to make the house habitable for us and whichever of my mother’s siblings arrived with their families. It was not a fun process for anyone involved and it got harder and harder each year to muster up the enthusiasm for making the long drive for such an initial stressful experience.

Additionally, circumstances changed as the years went by: I’m the oldest grandchild and I’ve been out of school and in the working world for a few years, which makes it hard to do a week and a half Ohio Christmas trip. Both of my siblings and a few of my cousins are now in college, so getting everyone together is only going to get harder in the future. My mom and siblings did a shorter version for a few years to see some of her extended family while Dad and I stayed in our respective homes to go to work the week in between Christmas and New Year’s. As of a few years ago, my grandfather sold the house that I have so many childhood Christmas memories from. Now that my step-grandmother is in the picture (it’s been years but that’s still an odd word to say. Step-grandmother), she and Granddad do the smart thing and spend the winter in Florida instead of Ohio.

This has thrown our Christmas traditions into disarray, and it’s interesting watching my family try to figure out new traditions while I’m in the process of figuring out my own as an adult. It’s been especially interesting this year since the past few years we spent Christmas at my dad’s father’s condo in the NC mountains with the same branch of my mom’s family that we spend Thanksgiving and Easter with, but we had to sell that last year to help pay for my grandfather’s care (fuck Alzheimer’s, by the way). Up until about Thanksgiving of this year, our Christmas plans were up in the air. We’ve decided our two families won’t spend Christmas together this year for the first time…ever? So it’ll just be the five of us at our house this year. No telling what the plans will be next year.

And, of course, what’s new for me this year is that I’m now on the FI path.

Less is more

Just typing up all of that was a lot: we’re definitely Christmas maximalists. I’m working to create traditions for myself that are a lot more on the minimal end of the scale though.

Turns out some of my traditions closely mirror that of my family, which makes sense, but I’ve pared them down to suit me. It’s less stress that way, it’s cheaper, and as a fifth of the family it’s only logical that my personal holiday celebrations are…less than my family’s.

O Tannenbaum

In addition to the Ohio trip of yore, we always have a truly massive tree in the living room that of course gets decorated with the boxes of ornaments that live in my parents’ attic. My mother is the kind of person who thinks there aren’t enough ornaments on the tree even when we’re struggling to find free branches on which to hang more. Last year my parents literally barely got their tree through the front door and set up in the living room, and of course it necessitates rearranging furniture because it takes up about half of the room. There are sap streaks on the ceiling from where they’ve had to cut the top off slightly-too-tall trees in order to get the star on. It’s beautiful and magnificent. It’s a lot.

Compare that with my Christmas tree this year:

The tree at Chez Reaching for FI, in all its majesty

I love real trees and at this point in life I’m not willing to compromise on that. But it suits me to have a 5’ tree I can stand on that table in the corner of my living room. No furniture moving necessary, just some rearranging of the houseplants that usually live there. I went even smaller and cuter this year, and the tree being cheaper was a large motivator there. Forty dollars for a tree instead of sixty, plus the bonus realization that the tree would fit in my backseat instead of me needing to tie it to the roof of the car? Yes, please!

It’s so cute!

So bring us some(thing more appetizing than) figgy pudding

For as far back as I can remember, my mother has spent most of December baking up a storm: she makes rum cake, chex mix, and chocolate-covered pecans to give to everyone. Neighbors, our teachers, friends, people at church, coworkers. People love it and they’ll write mom thank-you notes raving about how great it is every year. The teachers who got one or both of my siblings after me have definitely mentioned how awesome it was that they got more than one year of Christmas food from my mom. I am not joking about how much people love the rum cake.

Back in December 2015 as I was standing in my kitchen making rum cake to bring to work the next day, I realized I’d inadvertently turned into my mother. But there are worse ways to be your mother than to be someone who also bakes rum cake for the holidays! Especially because I draw the line there. I make a few batches to give to friends and coworkers, and I’ll bring it to parties or give it to people in lieu of a gift, but I don’t let it consume my entire month and I don’t make the chex mix or pecans.

FI-path me is extra appreciative that I already figured this out a few years ago because I’d be making the change this year of giving consumables instead of gifts if I hadn’t already. It’s also convenient that I’ve only adopted part of this tradition because I don’t have time to check on various batches of chex mix in the oven—blogging consumes all my free time now!

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams

I think it’s a conclusion we all inevitably get to, but holidays sadly don’t seem to be as fun now that I’m a working adult. I didn’t know how great I had it in college with three/four weeks off between semesters and nothing to worry about during that time beyond finding the textbooks for my next semester for as cheaply as possible! Sadly now there’s work involved and unless I use vacation days for the week in between Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve gotta return to the working world in between holiday fun (I don’t use all my vacation days for that because they’re at a premium. I’d much rather use many of them for a week at the beach in the summer anyway).

My first year out of college, I was unemployed so this didn’t matter, but the following year I went home for both Christmas and New Year’s weekends and worked in between. Home isn’t that far away, but it’s a pain to fight traffic to get there two weekends in a row. I love my family, but going through the effort to spend that much time with them while working in between turns into one of those “I need a vacation from my vacation” scenarios.

I’m only going home for Christmas weekend this year and trying mightily not to feel guilty about it. But less is more.

Less is more, but this holiday season is also characterized by a lot of work—more than ever. Now that I have my part-time job, I’m trying to work most weekends, especially while I still have debt to pay off. This means I said I was available both of the holiday weekend Saturdays this year, and unsurprisingly I got put on the schedule since many people aren’t available. I’m just glad I checked the schedule to see I’m working on the 23rd and won’t be leaving to drive home until after that shift, instead of assuming I could just leave DC Friday night!

That sadly means I’ll only be home for about 48 hours over Christmas. It’s a far cry from the week and a half spent with my family driving around Ohio, but it’s just the reality of what’s happening this year. At least my 9-5 employer is giving us the 26th off so I don’t have to drive back here on Christmas evening. I appreciate that, especially since I had to use a vacation day for the Friday after Thanksgiving. I don’t know what I’m doing for New Year’s if anything, but I’m working a double shift on the 30th, which puts a damper on leaving town anyway.

I don’t want all this hustling to become a new tradition—my ideal holidays would involve me not worrying about work or money and simply spending time with the people I love! But it’s a sacrifice I’m making this year because this is where I’m at in life.

Here comes Santa Claus?

The biggest change this year? I can’t honestly think of a single thing I’d want people to buy me as a gift. If I wanted it, I either already bought it (see also my national parks pass), or I’m saving up for it—although those savings goals are mostly for experiences, not things. Usually there’s one or two things, but I’m drawing a blank this year. I tried to express that to my family over Thanksgiving, so we’ll see if they picked up on that not-so-subtle hint.

Actually scratch that, you want to know what to get me, any family members potentially reading this (which I don’t think they are)? A gift certificate for a massage. The tension in my neck and shoulders has gotten out of control (too much typing/blogging?). Other than that, nothing.

I’m subtly trying to rebel against this season’s culture of mandatory gift-giving as well. I’m not a Grinch and I’m not against gift-giving! But it’s expensive and stressful to pick out the perfect thing for what seems like practically everyone you know, and I hate how wasteful unwanted gifts are. I’ve been gradually decluttering over the last few months, so I’m especially aware of it this year and don’t want to end up with a bunch of things I’ll end up getting rid of in a few months anyway. I don’t want anything I give people to end up with a similar fate.

I was already thinking about this last year, even before seriously wanting to curtail how much I spent on gifts, and decided to go with consumable gifts for everyone (I made a bunch of candles—candles are the best—and see also the rum cake section from above).

I’ve heard from family members that they want specific things so I’m getting them those specific things since I know they’ll actually be used. But for situations where you don’t know, my favorite go-tos are consumables or experiences. At my suggestion, my siblings and I are getting my parents an experience as a gift (fingers crossed I’m right about my parents not knowing the name of my blog so they’re not reading…).

I’ll be interested to see how gift-giving plays out this year on Christmas morning, and I hope we can eventually get to a place in my family where we stop giving things as gifts entirely (unless someone has specifically requested it). Especially if my siblings (or I) end up leaving the East Coast, which will make it expensive and logistically difficult for the five of us to end up at home for Christmas, I’d rather we just appreciated the fact that all of us are sitting around the tree instead of focusing on gifts.


Alright, that was way too long of an essay about holiday traditions and how mine look this year. What are some of yours and have they changed since you decided to pursue FI?

7 Replies to “Holiday traditions, old and new”

  1. Yes, I can confirm that your rum-cake kicks serious butt. But I had a two-shot limit, and I stuck to it.

    Great post, your tree looks pretty. I also come from a family of Christmas maximalists, and have been weening myself off it over the years. I don’t do a tree anymore, but did put some lights up at the house.

    You’ll find that your Christmas routine will continue to evolve, and that’s probably a good thing. But keep the rum cake in the tradition….

    1. Lights are a must-have. I could maybe be convinced to forgo the tree, but there’s gotta be at least a strand of lights somewhere!

      Hahaha, I’ll endeavor to keep the rum cake in the tradition. Also you’ll be happy to know that I made sure to boil the glaze longer for the second batch I made this week so that it was appropriate to bring to work!

  2. Growing away from old traditions is really hard and it has taken me a couple years of struggle with it to admit it’s normal. Discovering new things that can become traditions is a slow process that is hard too.

    I had never tried rum cakes until this year, but I am now hooked!

    And I completely agree about how it’s expensive and stressful to pick out something different that you want as a gift for everyone. It does lead to unwanted clutter. I know it often comes from a good place, but it’s hard to change the mindset of people who think that is the way to show love. I haven’t figured out that one yet.

    1. It’s so good, right? And I liked it years before I could drink/had built up any taste for booze (although I do remember some early years where I was like ‘nah, I’ll pass” haha).

      Oh yeah, I’ve no idea how to change people’s mind about buying things=love or at least redirect that energy somewhere else. It’s a really tricky situation to navigate!

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Lovely post! Are we the same person?? We are going through the exact same thing in our families, as we have moved so many times, and now have a house, both my siblings and my hubs’ sister are all out and living their lives… Everything changes as time marches on.

    For the first year we are finally doing a Secret Santa swap for the adults! This way we all only have to get one gift rather than like 12 and still try to stay in budget. Your compromises sound perfect for where you are right now. And your little tree is darling!

    1. Everything does change and I’m trying to remember that in this period of change things will likely change for me as I move around and hopefully find a partner, so embrace the change because more is coming!

      Secret Santa is a fantastic way to do a gift exchange while keeping stress and expenses down. I’m glad everyone agreed to it since getting to that point seems to be at least half the battle!

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