Thanksgiving topped the list of holidays in my family growing up. We always gathered for food and football, mindless television, board games and other fun.
The November holiday comes with volume — too much food, too much wine, too much noise. At times, even, there seems to be way too much family.
While that holiday holds many of my family’s traditions, with all their chaos, Christmas has taken on a different kind of meaning for me since I moved away from home.
When I was little — I’m talking younger than 10 — we’d make our way to my cousins’ home where we’d spend the day playing games like “Hungry, Hungry Hippo” and just being silly. We ate until we hurt. We opened gifts for hours — when we all got together there were a lot of kids and a lot of distractions. One year even included my brother and I jumping on my cousin’s bed screaming “Ice, Ice Baby” as the snow buried our swing set. Do you remember that song? Of course not, it was awful.
The holiday now brings with it much more quiet time than it used to.
I’ve told the story before — how my second Christmas in Wyoming was spent crying and cuddling with my dog watching sappy movies. I had covered this amazing reunion of a daughter with her father who came home for the holidays on leave from the military. Then, I went home to an empty house. I lived alone at that time and experienced my first holiday away from family that winter of 2009. It was rough.
I’ll never understand why I turned down invitations to friends’ homes that year. I told myself a quiet Christmas would be nice, not understanding the pain I’d feel missing my family.
Since then, though, my husband and I have created our own traditions. They are quiet and fulfilling, a feeling I missed in 2009 but have found again with him. Most years, we open each other’s gifts in the morning then bundle up in our snow gear and head for the Bighorns for a day of snowshoeing. Some years, that trek has included an amazing buffet at Bear Lodge followed by sleep on the couch with full bellies.
Sometimes we’ve missed that tradition for trips to see his family, but we always come back to it. I’m not sure if it’s the snow or the fact that I’m getting older, but the quiet of the Christmas season comforts me now in a way it never used to. Snow falling, especially in the mountains, muffles the sounds around us. All you can hear is the wind creaking in the trees.
I recognize the chaos that still surrounds the Christmas season — Black Friday shopping, sales, children begging to see Santa, the events full of merriment and community. Those things bring me joy, too.
But nothing beats the quiet of the Bighorns on Christmas Day. While most people are at home, or at least indoors, for those few hours on Christmas Day, the mountains seem to belong to my husband and I.