I have been going out of town for Christmas since I can remember. Every other year, my mom’s side of the family celebrates Christmas together. For many years, that meant gathering at my grandparents’ house in Illinois. As family moved around, we started rotating between Illinois, Kansas and California. Every odd-numbered year, we were with the Graul family for Christmas.
And a Graul Christmas meant you opened stockings and presents on Christmas Eve. In the even-numbered years, when it was just my immediate family, we opened stockings on Christmas Eve and presents on Christmas morning. Regardless of the year, the presents were all under the tree – some from family, some from Santa. And those presents marked “from Santa” didn’t miraculously show up on the 24th. Nope. Those Santa presents started showing up about mid-December. We also emptied our stockings, which had also been filled, yes, since mid-December.
I clearly remember asking my mom why Santa had filled our stockings so early. Her response, without missing a beat – “Sometimes Santa has a hard time getting everything delivered on Christmas Eve, so he starts early.” And I believed her. Seemed logical to me! On the years we traveled, she told us that Santa knew we were going to be gone, so he made a special trip to deliver the presents early. Yep. Logical.
Now, if I were to even THINK about filling a stocking before Christmas Eve, my husband would lock me in the closet until the night of the 24th, because he grew up with Santa bringing presents on one night only. When his family went to church on Christmas Eve, a neighbor would sneak over and set out all the gifts. They returned to a house full of presents, and the magic of Santa Claus lived on another year.
Now that we have our own children – an 8 year-old boy and 6 year-old girl, both believers at the time of publishing – we have established our own traditions. In their short lives, we have been out of town twice at Christmas. Both times, they have been young enough, with such a strong belief in Santa, that we haven’t had to worry about them finding out the real story. We open presents whenever the extended family gathers, but big gifts and stockings have always been reserved for Christmas morning (ironically, something neither of us did growing up).
This year, things get real. We are headed to California in a few days and we have been working on our Santa Strategy since Labor Day. The Graul family has all been in touch, wanting to know our official position on “The Big Man,” so they don’t spoil it for my kids. And let me tell you…we are still tweaking it. To be on the safe side, in their letters to Santa, we convinced the kids to mention we’d be in California so he can leave the big presents at home. Whew! But do we have something small for them to open from Santa on Christmas morning in California? My aunt has a stocking for each of them – should that be from Santa? Do we leave cookies out at home, or in California, or both? Do we have my in-laws text us a picture of the Santa gifts and empty cookie plate at our house on Christmas morning? Do I text Santa daily, reminding him we will be traveling? (And yes, in December, my brother’s contact info turns to Santa’s in my phone, so I can threaten to text him in case of naughty behavior – brilliant, right?)
Am I overthinking this? Possibly. But I don’t want one little misstep to be the unraveling of the mystery of Santa. My son is a straight-forward thinker, and he’s already told us he sometimes wonders if Santa is real. So if we are living on borrowed time, my husband and I want to do the best we can to keep the spirit alive. I know it would be much easier if we always stayed home at Christmas, always left out milk and cookies, and always opened Santa gifts and stockings on Christmas morning. We wouldn’t have to worry about Santa knowing where we were. And every even-numbered year, we do this, celebrating as my husband grew up doing.
But it’s an odd-numbered year, so it’s off to the airport for us, to continue my family’s tradition that I hold so dear. Santa will find us. This, I do believe.