Let's start at the beginning.
When I was little, my Christmas tradition was always the same. I would go to church at night on Christmas Eve, then after the service was over, my parents would drive me to my grandparents' house to eat and open presents. When we got home on Christmas day, I had a stocking waiting for me.
It was quiet and always predictable.
When I came back from my freshman year of college, I broke away from tradition by accident. James, one of my best friends from high school, invited me to his family's Christmas party that was supposed to happen on the 23rd. (For those of you who don't know, I had basically lived on his family's couch for the 6 months before I moved to Kentucky. -- Parents were in the middle of a divorce, I had just moved out on my own, and I had no desire to spend much time at "home.")
I had missed them all terribly for the 5 months I was gone, so I went to the party. The news had shown a winter storm warning on the weather forecast, but I wasn't about to let the weather get in the way of my fun.
It snowed 8 inches overnight. Could my mom have come to get me? Yes, probably, but she was paranoid about driving in bad weather. So I stayed with James and his siblings (ranging in ages 16 to 6) for my first Christmas ever. I was sad about waking up on Christmas and not having any presents to open, but they had actually bought presents for me and I didn't know it!
That year was filled with its own drama, but I still have so many special memories. Spending Christmas there was supposed to be a one-time thing, but last year, a little over a month after my mother's unexpected death, I asked to stay there one more time because I needed to stay close to what was familiar. Family members gave me their invitations, but I needed stability -- to stay with people I knew.
And it was awesome. All of the food, people, parties, and presents of the year before, with none of the drama.
Even if I had to eat ramen all weekend and not unwrap a single package, I would still go there again. Because Christmas is about spending time with people who love you, even when they don't have to. I love James, Shawn, Alex, and Amber like my own siblings. (If I had any.) I'm sad that I have to buy their presents late this year (ran out of money), but they'll get the best I can give them.
This is why I'm going home, even though I'd rather not get on that bus. I want to be there to see these kids grow up.
I do not ever want pity because I can't spend the holidays with my "own family."
I'll be sitting around the tree with people who make me happy. And that's just as good.