December is around the corner, snow is starting to fall in Canada and the music on the radio is about to include a lot of little bells. Christmas time is arriving. And while it is wonderful there is also a little bit of sadness that comes with it for many parents.

I’ve been to many playgroups where leading up to Christmas the topic comes up, “so whose house are you at this year?” And while a few will genuinely be happy with “at the in-laws,” most will have a slightly faded excitement over that answer.


I have thought about the framework of this article for a while. And this is what I kept getting back to. We are all ’emotional immigrants’ at Christmas.

See I decided to write this article after having a conversation with an immigrant a few days ago. She came to Canada from El Salvador, and like myself, is married to a Canadian (see I too am a real immigrant). So we got to talking about how Christmas away from home, no matter who you are and where you are from, is just not like a ‘real‘ Christmas when its spent anywhere but home. And while for immigrants our Christmas memories and emotions are wrapped up in cultural traditions, sounds, smells and sights that can not be transported to an adopted home completely,  anyone with “in-laws” can talk about having experienced very similar feelings of missing their ‘real‘ Christmas whenever they spent it with their spouse’s family instead.

It’s not that we don’t love “the in-laws”, it’s just that we know it means our Christmas isn’t going to be the one we remember as kids. It’s our spouse’s Christmas. It’s his/her family’s memories and traditions. It won’t feel 100% ‘real‘.

So what makes Christmas ‘real’?

Christmas is special as kids. Whether it be the food or the music or the people. The stories read at bedtime or the smells of the house in the early mornings. It’s an experience 100% unique to every one family. And it is that uniqueness that brings the magic… and that feeling and memories of  that magic, is what makes it feel real for us as adults.

So here’s what this immigrant and parent has come to learn about trying to make Christmas ‘real‘ no matter where you are.

Once you become a parent, all that magic-making pressure is on you. You’re the ones now in charge of creating a time that your kids will cherish forever. And instead of focusing on your own Christmas, the focus should be on their Christmas. While I will always be homesick, and while my Christmas away from my heart-home will never feel completely ‘real’ to me, I can breathe through those moments and close my eyes. I can dwell in the magic I felt as a kid for a few second’s worth of a memory. But then, when I open my eyes, I will look upon the magic in front of me. My own family. My own kids. And I will make the best effort to create a new ‘real’ Christmas for this family. Because for my kids, this is it. I will need to work with my partner. There will have to be compromise. We will have to blend traditions and be willing to let go of some, in order to make room for others. We have to be open about it with our partners, so that we can be supportive to one another when the times come that we are “at the in-laws.”

No-one should feel overwhelmingly lonely or lost at Christmas, there is room for change in everyone’s families. Share memories of your childhood Christmases with your kids. It does them good to know that not everyone eats the same dishes or reads the same stories. It does them good to know that all families can create their own traditions. It does them good to know their own family is unique. Choose family traditions together. Every tradition had to start at some point – so why not start one? If your kids are old enough to ask, let them provide some input. Would they like to do a Christmas Eve movie night? Would they like to do presents in the morning or in the evening? Would they like to go carolling with friends? What is their favourite dishes to have or cookies to bake? Enjoy the moments you see your children light up. That is their magic.

If you appreciated this article, please share the love and pass it to someone you think could use it. Merry Christmas to all, may you have a wonderfully, blessed and magical time.