When Christmas Changes

“Christmas just won’t be the same without…”

Those can be some painful words to have to say.

I remember, growing up, how we’d always go to my grandmother’s house in Wilmington, Delaware, to spend Christmas.  The hurried trip to Penn Station, in Manhattan, was always a major production.  We’d catch the  “Pennsy” and leave New York–usually after sunset, so we’d see the Christmas lights all along the way.

And when we heard the conductor call, “WILLLMIINNGGGTONNNN!”, and de-trained in a flurry of suitcases and shopping bags full of packages, there would be my favorite uncle, waiting on the platform to drive us to my grandmother’s.   To this day, I still feel Christmasy when I walk through a train station that’s decked out in Christmas wreaths and filled with people traveling to see their families.

Except–when I was fourteen–things changed.My grandmother, by then a spry eighty-five, was nevertheless too frail to live alone.  She began spending the winter months with my favorite uncle.  And that meant a revision in our family Christmas plans–with my parents and me staying in New York that year.

Everybody missed the good family times–and we were fortunate, in that, by the next year, we had a modified Delaware family Christmas.  My aunt made arrangements for us to stay with her, and everyone was together once more.  But that New York Christmas remained in our minds as a lonely one we were glad to have in our past.

As Christmas 2012 approaches, all too many of us have had to deal with changes we would prefer not to have had.  Jobs evaporate…loved ones suffer health issues (or, God forbid, die)…relationships come to a sudden twist in the road.

Or, there can even be a positive change that means this Christmas will be different.  For example, you may choose to live in a new town, go back to school, or even be in a new relationship.

One of my absolute favorite Christmas memories, believe it or not, is my first Christmas without snow.  As a New York City kid, I could never imagine no snow at Christmastime.  Then…I grew up and moved to San Francisco!

And snow or no snow, I don’t remember ever feeling more festive than on one pre-Christmas evening, looking at the lighted masts of the ships in the harbor as I walked along Fisherman’s Wharf to go Christmas shopping!  I still have the ornaments I chose that year, from some of the small stores and the local Cost Plus–and they evoke some great memories, every time we unpack them.

My beloved grandmother had died at the age of 92 (and how blessed I was, to have her that long!).  In her memory, I made the tollhouse cookies she would always bake for Christmas–which evaporated when friends came over, just as they always had at our family celebrations!  That was my first year in my (tiny) new apartment in The City–and my parents came to California and stayed in a hotel, just down the street, so we could be together.

Huge changes from the Wilmington, house-full-of-family Christmases?  Absolutely.  A Merry Christmas, except for missing my grandmother?  Yes, it certainly was.

How has your Christmas celebration changed, over the years?  And if this year has been a difficult one for you, due to the economy or other issues, how are you dealing with it?   What are your sources of strength and festivity when Christmas is different from what you’ve experienced before–and what are the new traditions you build, that say “Christmas” to you and yours?