The Imperfect #FirstMarriedChristmas

kari trent stageberg marriage the merge

While I’m probably a few days late on this topic, I can’t seem to get it out of my brain.

This year was Joey and my First Married Christmas.

If I’m being honest, with all the hopes and dreams I had surrounding this momentous event, it really fell flat.

Let me explain.

It was two days before Christmas, and Joey and I still needed to go Christmas shopping.  With the chaos of both of our work and travel schedules this year this was our first day together to go.

I was homesick-ing hard, and the only thing that felt remotely like Scottsdale Fashion Square was Bellevue Square, about an hour away from where we live in Tacoma. 

Excited to get somewhere that felt more like home, I tried to rush Joey out the door.

But, as it always goes, things came up and we left late. Super late. 

Once we FINALLY were in the car, the horrible traffic report dashed my dreams of going to Bellevue into a million pieces.

While Joey gently tried to help me find ways to be excited about the small local mall in Tacoma - I felt tears filling my eyes. I wanted Anthropology. I wanted luxury. I wanted options!

That thought slammed hard into the next thing that popped in my head: we hadn’t done anything I’d wanted to do for Christmas.

You see, in my family, we are ALL ABOUT tradition.  

In fact, December typically looks something like:

      •  Day after Thanksgiving
          •  Decorate the tree and house for Christmas - which is a big production 
          •  Dinner - Mom’s Chili
          •  Watch The Christmas Story
      •  Weekly/Bi-Weekly
          •  Attend Christmas Parties
          •  Have family Christmas themed nights
          •  Go see the Nutcracker, Rocketts, and multiple other Christmas themed performances
      •  The Day before Christmas Eve
          •  Go to an early breakfast
          •  Daddy Daughter Shopping Day (a long beloved tradition that began when I was 6. Mainly created to get us out of the house so Mom could get ready in peace for Christmas)
          •  Meet mom for dinner and a movie
      •  Christmas Eve
          •  Church
          •  Eat Italian Food
          •  Open one Present
          •  Drive around looking at Christmas lights
          •  Watch Die Hard
      •  Christmas Day
          •  Read the birth of Jesus in Luke
          •  Open Stockings/Presents
          •  Eat French Moast (Dad’s secrete recipe for French Toast)
          •  Get Ready for the Day
          •  The Crowell’s come over
          •  We eat an epic meal
          •  We play games
          •  We go see a movie

While in Joey’s family it looks like:

      •  Christmas Day
          •  Open Stockings and Presents
          •  Family comes over to eat

So this year, when it was OUR turn to create traditions I thought we were going to:

      •  Decorate the tree and make it a big deal with a celebratory meal
      •  Host a Christmas Party
      •  Go to the Nutcracker, White Christmas Live, and the Singing Christmas Tree Performance
      •  Have a Christmas Movie Marathon
      •  Bake cookies and decorate them
      •  Build a gingerbread house
      •  Shop at Bellevue and see the snowfall at Snow Flake Lane
      •  Look at Christmas Lights
      •  Watch Die Hard
      •  Have coffee in our new PJ’s on Christmas morning
      •  Create like 50 NEW traditions that were just ours

What we actually did:

      •  Decorate the tree - but then we had to rush out to do other things skipping the “big deal” part
      •  Have coffee in our PJ’s on Christmas Morning - but Joey hated the new PJ’s I got him, so it was short-lived 

Needless to say, by the time the day before Christmas Eve rolled around I was upset.

I felt like Joey didn’t want to connect with me or create traditions. I was hurt. I was angry. And worst of all I felt rejected.

We pulled into the REI parking lot, and Joey looked stunned when he saw that I was crying.

“Kari! What’s wrong?” He asked with genuine concern.

I proceeded to tell him that I didn’t understand how Christmas wasn’t important to him.  How I had tried to plan ALL of these events, and without fail each one hadn’t happened. And how that must mean that he wasn’t interested in creating traditions with me, and that I wanted to go home and be with people who did.

Joey was shocked.

In fact, “Wow” was all he managed to say.

At that moment, seeing the hurt in his eyes, I went from feeling bad to worse. 

“Great, now he really wouldn’t want to do holidays with me anymore.” I thought. 

To my amazing husband’s credit, he didn’t storm out of the car, or yell at me, or even say something sarcastic and hurtful. He kindly grabbed my hand, and said, “I love you. And I want to create traditions with you. I didn’t realize how important all of this was to you. Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

^ (Reason number 1,567 that I married this man.)

Our conversation after that was still filled with emotion on my end.  I’ve never been great at telling people how I feel.  Or “pushing” people to do something that I want to do - if I feel that they aren’t receptive. 

But Joey saw what was really happening. 

He explained how his family did things differently, and that Christmas had kind of lost some of its magic for him over the years. 

He also suggested that next year, we get the things I want to do scheduled, so work and other events don’t end up coming first. 

Most important, he told me that I could always tell him when things were important - and that creating traditions with me sounded amazing - he just didn’t know how - but was willing to learn.

I sat in the car, sad tears turning to happy tears.

In that moment, I also realized something important: the only thing that could ruin our first married Christmas was my expectation.

I was expecting our first married Christmas to be “perfect”. Filled with Pinterest-worthy moments, perfect decor, breathtaking events, and overwhelming emotions of joy. 

But that is not reality.  

Looking back, even my traditions growing up were filled with fighting, someone not wanting to go, me throwing up during Daddy Daughter Shopping day, and a million other things that derailed perfection.

I had built unrealistic expectations around our First Married Christmas, and it almost prevented me from enjoying it at all. 

I’m so thankful that I got a wake-up call BEFORE Christmas. That day and the days that followed were filled with a deep appreciation for the things that make life REAL - not perfect.

We even started a few traditions of our own - naturally.

We didn’t need my clipboard filled with to-do items to make our First Married Christmas memorable.

All we needed was a little bit of grace for the imperfection. 

Praying that this encourages any of you who maybe felt let down by the holidays this year. And also praying that it may be a very early “wake-up call” for those of you who will be experiencing your First Married Christmas next year!