I propose that we begin referring to the holiday season as The Holidays. The phrase deserves proper noun status because of its domineering presence in the collective American psyche.
We savor a year-long anticipation of gingerbread cookies, candy canes, latkes, gifts, snow, the homey glow of Christmas trees and decorative lights, and the fresh slate of a new year.
We also harbor the angst of travel, financial strain, weight gain, otherwise avoided family interaction, and terrible weather (in Los Angeles, “winter” is fifteen minutes of rain over a three month period).
When you add the celebration of your baby’s first Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/Yule/New Year to an already demanding time of year, things become more complicated. Along with the excitement and joy of watching your little one experience her first Holiday comes some necessary preparation. Here are some tips on making baby’s first Holiday less daunting.
Travel. My advice? No. Don’t. Avoid at all costs. But if you must, prepare the details of your trip far in advance. If you are taking a road trip, be sure to pack all of your essentials in an accessible part of the car, and bring double of everything.
Plan your stops in advance so that you are pulling over to a safe rest stop to change and feed baby. Bring some relaxing music if your baby is a fussbudget in the car (I’m proud to say that our son falls asleep quietly to Pearl Jam, so we must be doing something right).
If you’re flying during The Holidays and can afford to pay for an extra seat, purchase one for your baby and bring his car seat on the plane with you. Be sure to check the compatibility of your car seat with your airline of choice, as well as their policies regarding traveling with youngsters.
Airlines have different age requirements for young travelers, but most will require a doctor’s note for babies who are under two weeks old. It is also wise to familiarize yourself with your airline’s guidelines regarding bringing fluids and other necessities on board. You may even be required to taste some of your baby’s milk or formula as a security precaution (don’t lie; you’ve already done this out of curiosity/delirium).
Decorations. It’s the most wonderful time of the year…especially for a grabby baby surrounded by new lights and objects. If you have a crawler or a walker on your hands, you need to make sure you baby proof your Holiday goods. Your Christmas tree can be surrounded by a baby gate, and ornaments should be hung well out of baby’s reach. Menorahs, candles, and tiny, bite sized decorations should be placed up high (which they usually are anyway). Creepy old nutcrackers or elves are terrifying/frequently haunted, so you should probably just leave those in the back of the closet. This is applicable for non-parents as well.
Family. Many people in Los Angeles aren’t “from here,” so The Holidays bring them closer to family members they don’t see on a regular basis. Even if you are a SoCal native, you may have familial obligations that are downright objectionable. If you have strained or uncomfortable relationships in your family, fret not — you are pretty normal.
The good news? You have an ultimate distraction from the awkwardness: a baby. Your relatives will be so enamored with your little bundle that they won’t pay a lot of attention to you. Translation: free babysitters. Take the opportunity to enjoy a little grown-up time with your spouse (aka an uninterrupted nap), or have a solid one on one with your favorite single-malt scotch (unless you are nursing).
Money. If you’re raising a baby on a budget, there are plenty of ways to give her an amazing first Holiday. Check out Good Will or a local thrift store for some epic discounts on clothes and toys and non-sketchy dollar stores for good deals on decorative items. If you have friends with older kids, ask if you can raid their old hand-me-downs for goodies.
Since babies are easily entertained (my son’s favorite treasures include a cloth measuring tape and a plastic strainer), it’s okay to keep things simple this year. Don’t be afraid to get creative with gifts. My father always wrapped my presents in the comics section from the Sunday newspaper, I guess because he found wrapping paper to be excessive.
When I was a baby, my mom simply arranged all of my stuffed rabbits in baskets, woke me up, and called it Easter. Take advantage of the fact that your child doesn’t expect much in the way of material goods, because that won’t last very long.
Although the science of memory retention will insist it is impossible, I remember my first Christmas with bitter clarity: I was ten months old, and I had been uprooted from the comfort of my West Coast home and flown across the country to visit relatives in New York. I remember crawling around a living room on a red Oriental carpet, with a row of seated people and their knees as my focal point.
I was furious. Livid. I knew that I wasn’t at home, where I wanted to be, and that I was not being adequately entertained. Somewhere in my periphery was a Christmas tree. That visual blurb is the extent of my first memory. I was a snappy little thing, so my mother isn’t surprised that this is how I remember my first Christmas.
Hopefully your baby isn’t the curmudgeon-y type, as I was. Hopefully s/he will remember their first Holiday season cheerily, if at all. And hopefully, you will survive this year’s The Holidays with your dignity and sanity (ha) intact. If all else fails, chill out with a carton of eggnog and the Jackson Five Christmas album.
Virginia Petrucci is a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, and a former model and actress. She has a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and English, and is pursuing further education in Psychology. She has a one-year old son named Dante.