Christmas Can Be Difficult With a Child at College

Christmas traditions with kids in college
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I grew up in a house without many traditions, but now that I’m married with children and have reached the rank of second-in-command, my family has several Christmas traditions. With our oldest son away at college, though, we’ve already had to alter one of them.

I love my town’s annual Christmas parade

Our town has an annual Christmas parade on the first or second Friday evening of December, when the temperature usually dips down to the twenties and thirties. Normally I avoid snow and cold weather, which is not easy to do in Maine, but this night is an exception. We fill up mugs of hot chocolate and watch the parade go by, cheering along with the rest of the crowd as Santa and Mrs. Claus light the Christmas tree in the middle of town. After the parade and tree lighting, our tradition is to return home and put up our own Christmas tree while listening to Christmas music and drinking eggnog.

[More on how holiday traditions change when kids are away at college here.]

This year, for the first time, one of us wouldn’t be here. Our son was returning to college on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and wouldn’t be coming back home until a week or so before Christmas. There’s no way we could wait that long to put up our tree, not with a ten-year-old in the house. And doing it after the parade didn’t seem right, not without Seth here. He said he’d come home for the weekend, but a four-hour drive each way to put up a Christmas tree seemed kind of silly. We contemplated using FaceTime while we did it, but decided that wouldn’t fill the void of Seth’s absence.

This year we bent our tradition and put up our tree early

Our solution was to put the tree up on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I’m not a fan of people putting their Christmas decorations up early. Contrary to what some might believe, this isn’t a race, and you don’t get a prize for being first. But this year we decided to bend our tradition and put the tree up a little earlier than normal.

This may sound like no big deal, but to us it is. My younger son and I both like things done on a schedule and have trouble with change of almost any type. Maybe this is why traditions are so important to us.

However, in this case it was definitely worth shaking things up a little. We did what we always do – my wife and I set up the artificial tree and string the lights while the two boys drink eggnog and sort through the decorations while giving Mom and Dad pointless directions. Once this is done, the boys put up the decorations.

[Gifts for College Students – 18 Favorites Your Kids Will Love here.]

Something was different this year, though. For the first time, there was no arguing. No whining about who sets up the manger on the mantel, no bickering about who gets to put which decoration on the tree. There was only laughter. It was wonderful. The best time we’ve ever had putting up the Christmas tree, without a doubt. I attribute this to the happiness we all felt because my son was home for the first time since August. Bending our tradition worked out for the best in another way. Our ten-year-old ended up getting the flu and couldn’t attend the parade the following weekend, so we wouldn’t have been able to put up the tree anyway.

My son will miss some of our traditions and it’s hard for me as a parent

The next tradition Seth is missing is movie and snack night. Every weekend in December my wife makes a sweet treat – last weekend it was chocolate chip cookie cups filled with pudding and topped with whipped cream, along with homemade hot chocolate – and watches a Christmas special with the boys. I usually join them and try my best to avoid the snack. Being in high school, Seth missed quite a few of these nights the past few years. I have a feeling he’d love to be part of them now, though

At least he’ll be here for Polar Express Night. A week or so before Christmas, my wife makes another sweet treat, sets up an air mattress in the living room and turns off all the lights so she and the boys can lie down and watch Polar Express. Since this is one of the only Christmas specials I don’t like, I usually skip this one (although I’ve been known to partake in the snack).

This is so hard for me as a parent, but I know I can’t fight it. Instead, I’ll enjoy our traditions more and more with each passing year.

What I Miss Most About Christmas Past 

About Gary Sprague

Gary Sprague is a freelance writer who lives in Maine with his wife and two sons. You can find him online at Twitter, Facebook and his blog, GarySpragueBooks.

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