I think reaching the milestone of my daughter’s 18th birthday has made me appreciate other milestones. This year I truly appreciated Christmas Eve with my husband’s family…my family.

It was 22 years ago when I celebrated Christmas Eve with them for the first time. I felt a little bit overwhelmed then. I’d come from a family where it was just mom, dad and the kids for holidays in our home. Quiet, dignified celebrations.

My husband’s big Polish family has always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve at his parent’s house. Lots of people are there…..his parents and all of their kids and their grandkids, now even the grandkid’s kids–and all of the spouses. Anyone else who happens to need a place to celebrate is welcomed too, even if they are no relation at all. Tons of food, tons of decorations, Santa comes, the kids sometimes do skits, sometimes you have to sing a Christmas carol to the crowd before Santa will give you your present, sometimes there’s a white elephant giveaway. Kind of corny stuff. Kind of loud, kind of overwhelming. At least it was for me the first many years I spent the holiday at their house. It took me some getting used to.

But this year was my 22nd Christmas celebration with them. I don’t feel like an in-law anymore. I am a daughter and a sister, “in-law” doesn’t seem to apply nowadays. I kind of appreciated the corny stuff, the crowd, the overabundence…….and even the noise.

I talked to adults during the evening who now have their own small children. I remembered these same adults as toddlers when I first met them 22 Christmases ago. My husband and I were not yet married and I had no children the first time I spent the holiday with them. Two children and a few adults have died since I’ve been a part of the family. I remembered those who were not there this year especially.

This year I truly celebrated all of them who have become a part of my life over the last few decades. I celebrated the life changes we’ve all shared through the years, the support they have been to myself and to my own family, the support I hope I’ve provided to some of them.

They’ve started something new this year, Sharing the Oplatek, a Polish tradition. White wafers, like those used for Holy Communion, are shared with each person present. We all broke off a piece of each other’s wafer as we wished each other a Merry Christmas. It was really a sweet moment.

This year especially I felt truly proud to be a part of the history of this family, to belong and to be a part of their lives and their traditions. I appreciated that I’ve had all of these years to share with them. All of the milestones.