Yep, that's what it feels like here these days as we approach the Winter Solstice, which for my family is our midwinter holiday.
It's always somewhat of a hassle seeing as my university semester frequently ends less than a week before the solstice. In fact, there have been years when graduation was as late as the 23rd of December. Fortunately, I never have to be involved with graduation, so that's a relief. My official duties regularly end two days prior to graduation.
When the kids were littles, we had a lot more active traditions involving the sun, the science of the sun, the mythology of the sun, and all that jazz. But by now, our observances have mostly turned into the secularized version of the secular Christmas. Generally, we have a "feast" on solstice eve or the evening of the longest night. Typically the food represents dark and light in one way or another (chocolate cake vs. pumpkin pie, beef stew w/sun dried tomatoes, sun flower encrusted bread) and pomegranate (based on the amount of pomegranate seeds my family can consume, the earth will never grow any living thing again and we are all destined to spend eternity in the underworld--which, according to many of our Christian fundamentalist friends is only half wrong). Then the kids and husband go to bed, and I spend the wee hours of the morning wrapping gifts. The next morning (when they were young we'd force march them out of bed and force them to watch the sun rise...as soon as they could see it, they'd run off to open gifts...after all they had to see if they had done a good enough job the previous night using noise makers to remind the sun where to return) we'd open gifts. One year, I even bundled them all into our old station wagon, drove waaaaay out into the country here in desolate, flat NW Ohio, and forced them to watch the sun come up over the flat horizon. After gifts, we eat a yummy breakfast and spend the day doing nothing but enjoying each other and the new gifts.
In all, this works out well as a practice as that means we get to mostly ignore Christmas Day (we have a tradition of going to the grandmother's house Christmas Eve), so that's another day to just do nothing and be together until time to meander over to the grandmother's house for Christmas Dinner and movies. I grew up in a tradition of not travelling on Christmas Eve or Day because my father was a minister and my mother found it rough enough (she used to say on us kids, but now as the mother myself I think it was rougher on her) to deal with the stress the services put on my father (one or two Christmas Eve and two Christmas Day, except in the years it fell on a Sunday, in which case there were three services) and unfair to yank us kids away from gifts to travel in the car to visit relatives. So, once my brother and I started having kids, our families would get together on the first weekend after Christmas that he had custody of his boys. That worked well. It's just a day, you know? It's the family gathering that is important.
Anyway, times are changing.
As I just stated, it's just a day. At times in the past, we have had to fudge the solstice a little here and there...do our day early or a little late, depending on when my husband could get a day off. As long as he could be home by sundown on the "eve" we were good and then have the next day off. In general, when we worked at the big box university, that wasn't a problem. Then for the last two years, he wasn't working, and that wasn't a problem.
Now he is working again, and working in very traditional retail. He just started his job this fall, so didn't feel like he should request a day off so soon. Also, commission is involved and it makes no sense to NOT sell during one of the busiest weeks of the year. Fortunately this year, he has the first day of winter off.
And so does The Eldest.
Pell Grant, ultimately, when that refund check will come later in the semester). All he has to do is keep higher than a 3.0 GPA (and if he applies for a book scholarship in time this year that should be taken care of, too). But I digress...
He is not in a position to ask for time off work to do Solstice with his family. I get that having worked similar jobs and having been married to a man who has had jobs without paid time off--and depressingly, at this late stage of the game, he's back to that. The Eldest has Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off--without pay of course. Initially, I thought that now, with girl friends in the picture, the older two boys would be able to benefit from our Solstice observances. Get their family obligations out of the way and that opens up time to devote to the girl friend on the more popular holiday.
But with the convoluted work schedules in our lives now...and my medical appointments...well, let's face it, no one else in the world cares that Thursday is our holiday. The Middle has a baby sitting gig on The First Day of Winter. I have Occupational Therapy at noon that day. The Eldest has to work the night before "until close" which can mean whatever he wants it to me...I have no clue. Plus, he didn't sound too enthusiastic about spending the night here so we could open gifts and sunrise. And what The Middle said about sunrise is probably illegal to print in several more conservative states. However, it must be done. Maybe not sunrise, but morning. Adult morning, not teen morning. By 11 am we all have to be dressed and out of the house and sitting nicely in a local dining establishment to have the annual "lunch with the out of town Aunt" which is a favorite...again, compounded by the need this year of the grandmother to have a constant companion due to her frail health and stroke last summer. Thursday is one day it works, so Thursday it is. I'll have to leave the lunch early (if I even get to eat) to make it to my appointment. The Middle will have to fly off to babysit. So much for a leisurely day chilling as a family.
Now, I'm thinking that maybe we should move our gift opening to Xmas Eve next year to simplify things. Why Xmas Eve? We've now entered that phase where sooner rather than later, my boys will partner off. I'm guessing at least one or more of them will spawn their own offspring (a couple of them talk about it...although those talks tend to include babies left in baskets on my doorstep and twins named Titian and Sophocles and adopting a baby from that Kenyon tribe that produces such fast runners so that one person in the family is athletic...they will mature, I hope), and I really do want to believe that I can be as gracious as my mother was in allowing the spin-off family units to develop their own holiday traditions. Or maybe we should do Xmas day so until then the boys can be certain to be "free" on the Eve to spend time with girl friends.
I just don't know. What I do know is I really didn't see this coming last year or I would have made more of an effort to drive home our traditions.
So, this year, the Feral Third, who has very little memory of the traditions that we had when he was little (because there is no way in hell after a certain age the older two were going to go outside and bang noise makers to tell the sun where to come back or engage in dancing to Celtic music in the dark in the house...i tell him he did these things and maybe, just maybe in that two gallon bag of undeveloped film there is evidence), is starting a new tradition. A weird open house here on The Longest Night. We've invited friends over to a soup and finger food pot luck and game playing, no electric lights other than decorations. I can light with candles but from the years of lighting 365 tea lights on Solstice, I know that drives up the heat index. And we don't have a lot of safe surfaces for candles (I'm more concerned about wax spilling on my floors than burning the house down, to be honest) and there will be young children here, so we will be using batter powered lights for the most part...it's the thought that counts.
Not too long after guests leave, The Eldest should come home from work, although my guess is he'll want to go back to his house, shower, etc. and then have me pick him up (seeing as I was posting to my facebook wall at 4:00 a.m. I'm thinking that his schedule is a little twisted these days). The Man of the House should get home as guests start to arrive. Truthfully, the Feral Third was sure no one would want to come. So we invited a lot of guests. I think it's going to be quite crowded in our little house (especially since only 3.5 rooms are usable entertainment space (no one can function in my husband's office--I don't know how he functions in there). The rest of the house is great for family living, but not so much for entertaining formally. It's great to hold teens and tweens in the back family room, but other spaces are limited. Good thing we like people.
Ultimately, what our observances will change to, is yet unknown. After all, at one point in time, we shopped for family tree ornaments on December 3rd, the anniversary of our first son, born still. That has since moved to "whenever it gets done" to "OMG, don't we have enough ornaments" to this year we are cramming it in to the last hour the store is open tonight because we can all be there, whether people want to go or not. Again, this is very important to The Feral Third. The other boys haven't mentioned it at all. They. Will. Do. It. Graciously. Or. Die.
So, times are changing. This change has taken my by surprise. It might be the first time I've felt nostalgic for the kids' youths. I'm more the "wow, this new stage is great and so much nicer than before" kind of mom. I love my kids' independence. I was happier than The Eldest, I think, when he moved out and then left for a 9 week trip the next day. I was one of the only moms with dry eyes as their buses pulled away.
But this, but at this point, it's time to heed the words of the bard:
Come mothers and fathersThroughout the landAnd don't criticizeWhat you can't understandYour sons and your daughtersAre beyond your commandYour old road isRapidly agin'Please get out of the new oneIf you can't lend your handFor the times they are a-changin'.