When our daughter was born, my husband and I decided it was time to establish Christmas traditions unique to our new family. For me, this meant celebrating Christmas morning in our own home. For my in-laws, this meant breaking their family’s tradition of Christmas Eve dinner with a beloved aunt and uncle in St. Louis.

The decision wasn’t easy; in fact that first year, when Caroline was but four months old, we gave in, loading the portable crib and baby paraphernalia into the car along with the gifts, and making the trek across the state. I bathed our fussy sleeper in the guest bath and shushed and rocked her, trying to maintain a normal bedtime routine. I think I missed the traditional tenderloin dinner.

A few years later, when Caroline was 4 years old and our new tradition firmly established, my in-laws came to Kansas City for Christmas.That year, Aunt Cheryl sent the coveted Easy Bake Oven along as a gift which was a huge hit until we realized no one had thought to get the light bulb required to actually ‘bake.’ We stifled laughter as a pint-sized Caroline, dressed in apron, chef’s hat and oven mitts, cried until someone saved the day with a run to Quik Trip.

I watched my in-laws watch their only granddaughter with so much love in their eyes. And right after dinner, my mother-in-law said, ‘This was so lovely, but I’ll be so glad when we’re all back celebrating Christmas at home next year.” The comment was not made with malice; Julie had early-onset dementia and trouble remembering that we had established our own traditions. I could see her longing for touchstones to ground her, and my heart broke a little bit.

Now, as Caroline has gotten older and will soon leave for college, I’m aware that I will also likely have to transition to new traditions. Someday Caroline may begin a family of her own and want the same thing I wanted — for her children to be in their own home for Christmas.

My own mother, the matriarch who established the original traditions which I have held so dear, has helped me prepare for that day. “It matters not the day, nor the location,” she has said, “Christmas will happen when we are all together.”

Indeed, a home is not a house. It is the place where we gather with family and friends, in love.

Gracious God, help us to find our way home this Christmas.