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When I was married and our children were growing up, our Christmas was traditional.  We had a giant tree, a ritual for decorating it, and a large party for all our friends a few weeks before Christmas.  Our menu for Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, and Christmas dinner never varied.   We were a picture-pretty family—just like on TV in the sixties and seventies.  Norman Rockwell could have immortalized us on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. 

Or at least we looked that way to everyone who didn’t know the tensions that lay beneath the surface of our less than perfect marriage.

When my husband and I divorced after twenty years of marriage, everything changed.  The girls and I moved to Vermont where Christmas dinner became salmon instead of a standing rib roast and our traditions shifted from ritual to spontaneous.

Now, more that thirty years later, our Christmas has undergone a radical transformation once again. 

My youngest daughter and her family, who live in Barrington, Rhode Island, still have a traditional Christmas.  She has adopted almost all of the ritual of her childhood from the tree trimming party to Christmas breakfast.  She has treasured and preserved our history, and when I spend Christmas with her, I am immediately transported to earlier and happier times—although I must admit that she and her family accomplish what I always hoped Christmas would be with much greater soul and heart and beauty than I did.

My middle daughter and her husband live in Mexico, and except for the constant fiesta that goes on in Ajijic, Christmas is just another day for them.  They have rejected the commercialism of Christmas.  They no longer put up a tree or celebrate the holiday with gifts (except, of course, for the children in the family).  Instead they extend their “Christmas spirit” to everyday of the year.

Now—I am celebrating Christmas in Denver, Colorado with my oldest daughter and her two daughters.  My ex-husband lives in Denver as well.  After many years of marriage to the wife who replaced me, he lost her to pancreatic cancer two and a half years ago.  She was a woman whom I came to love and respect over the years.  Furthermore, I love their family.  I could not love their son and daughter-in-law and their beautiful new baby son more if they were my own biological children.  In fact, I also love her daughter from an earlier marriage and her big and full-of-fun family who join us from Texas for the Christmas holidays each year.

This year, we will again have a “family” Christmas.  We will have it at my former husband’s new house along with his new fiancé, her large family, and our large and extended family.  The dinner—an amalgamation of all our favorite dishes—will fill the table.  I will make the stuffing and the gravy that everyone loves.  My daughter will make the creamed chestnuts that her stepmother always made.  My ex-husband’s new fiancé will contribute her family’s favorite dishes.  We will have our old stand-by—standing rib roast—which, no doubt, we will all have a voice in cooking.  My ex-husband’s step-daughter’s husband will make the amazing popovers and Yorkshire pudding for which he is famous. The newest baby will be the center of attention, the children will all play together, and the tree—decorated with the history of all these families—will shine and glow.

It is not the Christmas I imagined that I would be having all those years ago, but strange and non-traditional as it is, I love it.  It has become a new and treasured tradition.  Of course, in today’s world, this year’s tradition may change entirely by next year—so, at the ripe old age of seventy-two and in the crazy, non-traditional family we have—I am ready for whatever the new year brings.

This is Pat Jones' first year living full time on Nantucket. After decades of teaching English at the high school and college level, she is now embarking on a new and challenging odyssey. Both retirement and Island life are new and exciting and occasionally daunting.  In this column she will share what it is like to live on Nantucket year round. As a poet, a writer, and a novice visual artist, her metaphor for the journey is “Throwing Paint.”