13: My First Away Christmas

13: My First Away Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

My First Away Christmas

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

~Eden Ahbez

In the winter of 2015, I spent my first Christmas away from home. When I say away from home, I mean everything that goes along with home too. I was away from my mom and dad, my sister and nephews, my pets, my Christmas tree—everything.

I was worried about spending such an important holiday away from the people I love so dearly. I was afraid I’d be a nervous wreck. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the holidays as much. And to top it all off, my family (for the first time ever) was going to spend the holidays somewhere warm. They were visiting Florida to spend Christmas on the beach. And I was choosing not to go.

All for the new love of my life: Devin.

I am from Ontario, and Devin is from Nova Scotia. Our two hometowns are roughly 2,000 kilometers apart from each other (1242 miles for you American readers). Although Devin and I were both going to school in Ontario, we knew that the distance between our families was something that was going to be a challenge for the rest of our relationship. But we knew we had to spend this Christmas together.

Devin and I had both had a rough semester at school. And we were both really good at supporting and comforting each other—we just couldn’t imagine being away from each other during our first Christmas together as a couple. My family said they understood, but from their not-so-subtle hints, I knew they were trying to get me to reconsider going to cold Nova Scotia instead of warm Florida right up until our flight left Pearson Airport. But I was resolute: Devin and I were meant to spend this Christmas together and, though it would be a bit of a sacrifice on my part, I wanted to see it through.

We landed in Nova Scotia to hugs, kisses, and squeals of joy from Devin’s mom and dad. I was so happy that they were pleased to see me. From the first moment I stepped off the plane, I felt immediately welcomed into Devin’s family. They plied us with appetizers and finger-foods when we got to Devin’s childhood house, and his mom treated us to her famous “silver bells”—a holiday drink made up of milk, Kahlua, and some other tasty spirits. The house was decorated to the nines. Even the bathroom had Christmas decorations! My family was usually not so enthusiastic in their decorating.

But even though Devin’s family was supportive, loving, and excited—more than I could ever hope for in prospective in-laws—I kept finding myself drawn to the bedroom or to the television. I felt myself get upset with Devin more quickly than was normal. I got a little quiet and sullen. I felt depressed. My family kept sending me beautiful pictures of their Christmas vacation in Florida. And I kept sending them pictures of Nova Scotia snow banks (which are beautiful in their own way, I suppose).

Devin’s family did things a little differently than mine. In my family, we have one big dinner with our extended family and that’s it. The rest of the holidays are time for our immediate family. My mom and I would play board games, my dad and I would go to the movies, and my sister’s family and I would play in the snow. My sister’s husband has an amazing tradition of creating a “snow track” around their back yard, where he uses his tractor to pull as many people as can fit on a sled around the track. We usually go until we all fall off.

In Devin’s family, there are several family dinners. There are maybe two or three big dinners with extended family and several smaller dinners or get-togethers in smaller groups. Now, I know I might be sounding completely ungrateful—but it got pretty stressful! I am used to holidays where we try to relax and recharge, but instead I felt like a piece of cargo getting shipped from one Christmas event to the next. And trying to remember all of the names and faces—impossible!

Christmas morning arrived and I was surrounded by Devin’s family: his mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and his little nephew. We watched his nephew open all of his amazing presents, and he loved every one of them. Then came our presents: and I was completely and utterly overwhelmed. Devin’s family piled gifts on me: clothes, jewelry, fancy soaps, chocolates—it was amazing. All I could do was say, “thank you so much” over and over, but I felt like it didn’t fully express the gratitude I felt to them for including me so whole-heartedly in their Christmas. And I tried to tell them over and over that they didn’t need to get me all those gifts. I already felt so loved and accepted by them; that was gift enough. They reminded me that although I was “away,” I had a new home with them.

But there is one gift from Devin’s family that will remain in my heart’s memory for a long, long time. During one of the big family get-togethers, Devin’s grandma approached me with a gift.

Now, Devin’s grandma, Dodie, is the sweetest, loveliest lady I think I’ve ever met. I loved her from the first time I met her; I felt that we instantly connected—just like she was my own grandma. She is full of stories and knowledge; she’s caring and compassionate and her family is her greatest source of pride and joy.

She approached me at the party with a gift and I instantly felt guilty: I didn’t have a gift for her. But she insisted I accept and open the gift she brought me.

The party was loud, children were playing, grownups were drinking wine and beer and “silver bells” and catching up on the latest family news. New babies were being cooed over, folks were sitting on chairs and couches nibbling on food. The room was buzzing with noise, and even though it was chaotic, it was clearly filled with love.

And in a quiet, unacknowledged corner of the room, I opened the gift from Devin’s grandma. Inside a lovely box was a piece of delicately twisted, knotted colored glass. It looked like a small piece of art. With the glass, there was a card that read:

This knot represents a never-ending connection. This gift unifies the giver and recipient; it links our fate and binds us together.

She looked into my eyes, beaming and smiling.

“As soon as I saw this I thought of you,” she said. “We love you so much. Welcome to our family.”

~Emily Bednarz

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