Christmas was, as we expected, a complete nonstop marathon that left us trying to catch our breath. According to our holiday rotation, this year was Christmas in Georgia, but almost all of our families were there within a 15-minute drive of our hotel. My uncle from England even managed to hop the pond again which brought my parents down from Maryland to see him. I unfortunately woke up the Friday morning before we left with a sore throat that I knew was indicative of my first common cold in years settling in. I chugged water, tea, and Emergen-C all day trying to fight it off, but it held on for our whole trip. I definitely felt (and looked like) I hadn’t slept in weeks during the holidays, but I didn’t let it dampen my Christmas spirit and still had a wonderful few days with family.
We purposefully didn’t make any plans for Saturday so we could take our time getting on the road, which ended up being very smart on our part. With gift-wrapping, packing, and a little work left to do that day, we didn’t end up leaving Charlotte until just before sundown. After driving all night, checking in late, and unloading our jam-packed car, we drove to Eric’s parents’ house and then over to my aunt’s for quick hellos before heading back to the hotel for the night.
Christmas Eve’s Eve was always one of my favorite days of Christmas celebrations growing up, because my sister and I would spend it together at our grandparents’ house. We’d wake up way too early on Christmas Eve and open presents from our Gran and Granddaddy. It was basically Christmas Part 1 and holds some really wonderful memories in both our hearts to this day. We were totally pumped to get together again in Christmas Eve’s Eve with our dad and my mom, our uncles, aunt, Granddaddy, and best of all, her four kids, to exchange gifts this year. My mom brought two big lasagnas and garlic bread while Eric and I stopped for pizzas and drinks, and we all sat around the same dining table talking about “the good old days.” We passed a few gifts around for each other and sat around in the living room watching the littlest ones open presents with delight.
My English side of the family had talked about going to Rock City to see the Enchanted Garden of Lights last weekend, so my aunt bought us all tickets for Sunday afternoon. Eric and I drove up the mountain in the rain but were glad to see it fade out by the time we parked the car. We met up with our motley crew and wandered up and down the paths looking at the thousands of lights and the gorgeous views while snapping pictures. We even reached the peak right at sunset, which was a nice touch. By the time we made it back to the gift shop though, my toes were tingling and I was happy to see the inside of our warm car again.
Eric and I headed back down the mountain to meet up with his family, driving over to his parents’ house again where his aunt, uncle, cousin, and second cousins were waiting. We sat around for a long while talking about how the kids were doing in school and sports. Since Eric and I have been together so long, I’ve actually had the chance to see them grow into the the fantastic kids they are today, but I wish time would slow down. I especially loved getting to chat with the oldest second cousin who is a sophomore at our old high school, hearing which teachers she likes most and smiling when some of them were our same favorites from over a decade ago.
Monday morning we met up with Eric’s parents and nephew for breakfast before they headed out to do a little last-minute shopping. We actually squeezed in a much-needed nap afterwards, then headed over to Eric’s grandparent’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. As usual, everything was delicious and we had a nice time sitting around and catching up with family. After stopping back the hotel to pick up Ollie, the three of us went back over at his parents’ to find them wrapping the last gifts from Santa. Since all our wrapping was done before we left town, we offered to pitch in and help – Eric on trash duty while I wrapped. I can’t say how much I enjoyed sitting around the dining table wrapping gifts while making sure a certain little one wasn’t sneaking out of bed for a peek.
My cousin had made it in from Carrollton that afternoon, so we stopped back by my aunt’s to see him while I drank three huge mugs of hot tea, admired their ugly sweater cookies they decorated earlier in the evening, and made jokes with the family.
On Christmas morning, we set our alarms early so we could watch our nephew Kaden open his gifts from Santa. I understand how tiring being a parent can be during this time of year, but watching him go starry-eyed and speechless as he opened them all was just magical. Eric’s family always hosts a Christmas breakfast to accommodate the family members who have other family meals to go to during the day, and it’s hands-down Eric’s favorite part of Christmas. His Nanny was still finishing up the eggs when we arrived, so we played with the kids before filling our plates with biscuits, bacon, sausage, delicious gravy, hash browns, and ham leftover from the night before. After everyone was full and happy, gifts started being handed out.
The first time we both went to each other’s family Christmas was like a culture shock for us both. My family hands gifts out one at a time so everyone can watch them open it, and Eric’s family does them all at once in a frenzy of sheer holiday bliss. Both ways are great, but I still love standing in the corner watching the chaos of wrapping paper and screams of delight from everyone in one beautiful chorus when we’re with his family.
There was even the smallest amount of free time after we left breakfast, which meant another short nap in the quiet hotel – my own version of holiday bliss and the only thing I could have asked for from Santa while I was feeling so crummy.
My aunt hosted Christmas dinner at hers this year, which is always traditional English fare for my side. After shrimp (prawn) appetizers, we loaded our plates yet again but this time with roast beef, potatoes, Yorkshire puddings (similar to popovers), and for those that don’t eat like a four-year-old, vegetables like parsnips, peas, and Brussel sprouts – all covered in brown gravy. We pulled Christmas crackers and wore the paper crown hats as we read aloud the cheesy holiday jokes stuffed inside. After a brief break to exchange gifts between us and the rest of the family, we put Ollie’s first pair of dog socks on and watched him try to walk in them until we were all crying with laughter. We eventually made it back to the dining room for cakes, tea, and conversation thick with British accents until everyone was nodding off.
Our families are very different but the similarities between them are never more apparent than on Christmas, with full plates, lots of laughter, and even more love squeezed in around the table. It was a wonderful Christmas Day and when we finally headed back to our hotel for one last sleep, I felt incredibly lucky and loved. Gifts and great food are great, always abundant and too much, but the comfort of knowing we were all together even when we’re usually so far apart was especially heartwarming to me.
We slept in hard on Wednesday, eventually rolling over and calling the front desk for a late checkout. Our car was somehow still just as packed as it was when we arrived thanks to everyone being far too generous, but we managed to get everything Jenga-ed securely. We dropped Ollie off with my cousins for one last run around their back yard while we ping-ponged back across town to see my Granddaddy, Eric’s grandparents, and his parents one last time… and for one more bag of Krystals. In our typical style, we got on the road later than we wanted to but were happy to see the way back home was relatively clear.
Like always, we felt like we didn’t get to see anyone enough but were very grateful for the time we had. Living away from our family members never seems to get easier, but I can’t take our time with any one of them for granted. We are lucky, lucky people to be loved by so many awesome humans. I truly miss them all so much already, another thing that will probably never get easier.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all, and to all, a good nap.
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