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It was our first Christmas morning together. We were in Seattle, where my husband, Craig, was a rookie for the Seattle Seahawks, thousands of miles away from both of our families. There had always been something magical for me about Christmas mornings. The smells of bacon sizzling, and cinnamon rolls right out of the oven. The bows and bright wrapping on the presents peaking out from under the Christmas tree. So on our first Christmas morning together, he and I awoke early to the memories of our individual Christmas pasts. As we held hands and headed to the living room of our rented apartment, the reality of our Christmas morning together seemed to hit us at the same time: No breakfast was cooking. No stockings were stuffed with surprises nor were presents peaking out from under the tree. We didn’t even have a tree.
We resorted to finding a 24-hour diner and ordered something akin to moons-over-my-Christmas-hammy for our first Christmas dinner together.
That day we learned that traditions are created and that there is a lot of work that goes into them. For the first time we truly appreciated our parents and their hard work that created our holiday traditions. We found ourselves lonely, despite being together, realizing that it is the tradition of sharing the holidays with loved ones that makes them memorable.
In the days that followed, we shared the story of our surprisingly low-key Christmas with some of Craig’s veteran teammates. That’s when we began to hear their stories of spending time together with other teammates. They asked why we didn’t reach out to them and spend the day with them. Growing up, Christmas was a day when friends didn’t come over to play, it was all about family, so it had never even occurred to me that most of Craig’s Seahawks teammates were also thousands of miles away from their loved ones.
The following year, we spent Christmas with his teammates. It was so much fun! For the first time, we escaped our family roles and our individual traditions. Craig was no longer the little brother and I was no longer the middle child. We created a new holiday identity together, as a couple, sharing with friends who knew the loneliness of not having their families with them for Christmas. Together, we created new traditions, games, and holiday meals to share.
When football was over, we found ourselves once again displaced, trying to make sense of holidays without those who had become the loved ones in our new holiday traditions. Craig’s teammates and their families scattered throughout the country on other teams or as NFL retirees back in their home towns. What became traditional (holidays with teammates) became another holiday memory.
We now have two young daughters and we are creating new holiday traditions with them. They are made up of what we learned when we were young and what we discovered during our holidays with teammates. As parents, we hope our girls always stay close to home for the holidays. But should they ever find themselves thousands of miles away on a future Christmas morning, we hope that the traditions and memories they grow with will keep them warm that Christmas day.