Like many kids growing up in the Western world, Christmas was the one day of year I looked forward to the most. Every Christmas morning, my sister and I would wake up at the crack of dawn and run into our parents’ bedroom, screaming with joy at the thought of the amazing gifts that “Santa” had left under the tree. Our parents, who probably regretted having children by that point, were dragged downstairs to watch us rip open our presents, an event which rarely lasted more than 15 minutes. Following our initial excitement was the dreaded realization that we had yet to attend Christmas Mass, an occasion that we desperately tried to weasel out of every year. Our mom, a member of the church choir and a stickler for tradition, was never persuaded otherwise. We survived the service by dreaming about our new toys and gingerbread cookies awaiting us at home. The rest of the day was spent in a cloud of bliss, enjoying our presents and Christmas dinner until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer, exhausted from the best day of the year.
Upon reaching my teen years and entering the dating world, I was exposed to entirely foreign Christmas traditions that have stuck with me to this day. In my junior year of high school, for example, I was forced to acknowledge the popularity of fake Christmas trees. My boyfriend at the time had invited me over to help decorate his family’s tree, a tradition that I felt honored to be a part of. I arrived at his house excitedly aniticipating the woodsy, crisp smell of a freshly-cut spruce. Instead, I was greeted by a tall, plastic tree that smelled like Febreze and spun in a circle to holiday tunes. I was glad that our relationship didn’t last long enough for me to endure another season with that imposter tree.
During my sophomore year of college, I met a fellow student from Germany who was studying abroad at my university. As our relationship eventually continued long-distance, I had the pleasure of spending our first Christmas together in Europe, an experience that I will forever be grateful for. I loved bundling up in my newly-purchased winter clothes, standing in the cobblestone street as snowflakes melted into my hair. My old beau, eager to show off the best that his country had to offer, also introduced me to the world of German Christmas markets. Honestly, I miss that magical place more than anywhere else in Europe. If you’re wondering what a Christmas market looks like, imagine hundreds of booths decorated with festive lights and wreaths selling delicious holiday treats and drinks. It was a winter wonderland that I will never forget.
Years later, in 2017, it’s once again the first week of December. This Christmas season also marks the second one that I am spending with my current (and hopefully last) boyfriend. After many detailed conversations concerning our holiday traditions, I’ve realized that we experienced nearly identical Christmases throughout our childhood years. From decorating live trees to dreading Christmas morning church services, we both agree that it was the best day of the year to be a child. In fact, I still believe it’s the best day of the year. I will always love decorating my (real) tree, making gingerbread cookies, and buying presents for my loved ones. As I reflect on Christmases past, I feel extremely grateful for the unique experiences that I’ve been a part of. The ex-boyfriends from my past may be out of my life for a reason, but I still believe those holiday seasons served their purpose. Yes…even the fake tree.