So This Is Christmas...

Fair is fair, and since Justin got to experience the full-blown Wyatt family Christmas over the weekend, it was my turn to learn about all the traditions observed by his family on Christmas Eve and Christmas. I probably ended up spending more time with his family in the past two days than I have in the past three years, and I really enjoyed seeing how close he is with them. It is a challenging, but special thing to become part of a new family, and I was happy to have this bonding time with the whole clan.

On Christmas Eve, we traveled north to Milwaukee (we're really getting around this season!), to have dinner at Justin's cousins' house. I could relate to his cousins' Italian heritage, and was happy to see minestrone soup on the menu. Apparently, it's a family tradition, and a highly beloved dish. I can't blame them; it was excellent! Though we were seated at the "kids'" table in a separate room from Justin's parents' generation, I appreciated the casual vibe created by being among people our own age. Justin's cousins were very welcoming and convivial. In fact, I enjoyed them so much that I was a little sad that I will only get to see them once a year.

After dinner, we gathered around the piano to sing Christmas carols, led by his great-aunt on piano. It was almost like something out of a greeting card, but it was nevertheless fun to learn about one of his family traditions. It's a good thing I love my Christmas music so much, as I was able to sing-along without any problem, and largely without having to rely on the lyric print-outs.

Justin was a little sad that we missed out on his father's annual Christmas Eve reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," but it was already very late by the time we made it back from Milwaukee, and we needed to be back early the next morning to have brunch and open gifts. I felt like a mean girlfriend for insisting that we go home, but both of us are grumpy when we haven't had enough sleep, so it seemed like the best decision in the long run.

We were back bright and early the next morning bearing bagels and gifts (one of the perks of living close to a predominately Jewish neighborhood is that the 24-hour bagel shop is also open on Christmas, meaning that you can satiate any bagel craving you might have, at any time). Justin's sister, Cathie, needed to head back to Ohio to spend the afternoon with her boyfriend's family for the holiday, so we opened gifts and ate breakfast in relatively short order. 

Justin's parents generously gave us a Nest, a fancy Internet-enabled "smart" thermostat that Justin has had his eye on for some time. Over time, the Nest learns your habits and will program itself to operate with maximum energy efficiency, resulting in a savings on your heating bill. Plus, you can install an app on your smartphone that enables you to change the temperature in your house remotely, so you can have the house warmed or cooled to your desired temperature before you get home for the day. Pretty cool stuff!

I was charmed to discover that Justin's mom still does stockings for the family as well; I can't remember the last time we did stockings in our house. In fact, it was an entirely different experience having Christmas with just his immediate family. Since we've been going down to White Hall for as long as I can remember, my parents and I never really developed that many holiday traditions within our nuclear family. Sometimes we opened gifts on Christmas Eve, sometimes we did it on Christmas morning. Sometimes we were out of town and did it when we got back. There were never any specific foods that Mom made, instead we always ate whatever Grandma felt like making that year. I'm not saying that either system is inherently better, just different.

I'm glad that we were able to reach a holiday compromise this year where everybody ended up with what was most important to them. Both of us got to spend time with our respective families, and we got to spend time together. It will take time to become fully integrated in each other's family lives, and I am not sure yet how we will divide our time come next Christmas. Still, I'm proud of us for negotiating our way through this holiday season, and I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to do it all again next year.

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