When I admitted to my 8-year-old son that I was struggling with my next submission, he threw me a loaded look, and said with all the certitude that only a child can summon, “You know what you should write about, Mom. What Christmas is really about."
His meaning was very specific about our family’s particular beliefs about Christmas, but anyone can take his advice to heart about any significant holiday. We often invest so much into our preparations that we lose sight of the reasons we have these holidays in the first place.
For our family, since moving to China more than five years ago, Christmas has usually meant a month-long trip home to Pennsylvania. A month sharing the winter holidays with our extended and blended families is a blessing. But before we can even get there, we have weeks of work ahead of us.
In order to justify to his employer a month away from the Beijing office, my husband has to coordinate meetings with current and potential customers across North America. Until these dates are set, we cannot book our flights. By mid-November, I am already receiving daily messages from various family and friends, wanting to know exactly when we are coming. For weeks I have to delay responding, not being able to commit to any Christmas concert or holiday party until Randy’s schedule is set.
In the meantime, the kids and I scour Beijing trying to determine the perfect present from China for everyone on our list. This season will be the fifth time in six years that we have undertaken this endeavor. I am wondering if we haven’t already run out of ideas. The challenge, other than variety, is that we want each gift to be able to represent a great deal. How do we convey our unique and sometimes crazy experiences living in China, and how much we have missed everyone?
Then there’s the email I dread sending out every year. Trying not to sound ungracious, I re-explain to our families that while we appreciate any gift, it must fit in our luggage if we are to take it back to China. “Small, flat, packable” is my usual recommendation. This is, of course, met with some mild protests from the grandparents, aunts, and uncles who are otherwise inclined to outsized generosity.
Even after all that preparation, there’s still the sleepless night before our departure, of packing, weighing, and repacking every piece of checked luggage. This is followed by a 12-hour flight, plus inevitable delays and possible cancellations of connecting flights, and a week of jet lag.
Is it any wonder that I need my 8-year-old son prompting me to remember what Christmas is really about?
While I work on keeping that true meaning of Christmas amidst commotion that spans two continents, I want to wish you, the readers of beijingkids, a happy and unencumbered holiday.