Often in the middle of the night, I’ll awaken, get up, and realize I’m in a strange place. Yet another hotel room in this road warrior life. Before mobile phones and smart watches, I’d sometimes roll over, call the front desk, and ask where I was. Hotel rooms blend together over time, and sometimes you simply forget where you were when you checked in the night before, especially on a tour of 10 cities in 20 days. 

This morning I immediately know I’m not home, but it’s no hotel room. Instead it’s our annual Christmas journey as a family, living aboard a houseboat in a marina in Florida. It’s a tradition we’ve followed every Christmas for years. 

Splash Splash

The water is splashing against the sides of the boat, ever gently rocking it, lulling us to sleep. Though quarters are tight, it brings family closer and away from our home distractions of homework, housework, studio work, and office work. It’s a break we all look forward to, but the best part, of course, is time with family, a treat we don’t have as often as we would like. It’s also a treat for our good friends who use our home back in Austin as their Christmas HQ while they visit family.

Memories Over Pain

Though Christmas is a busy time, I still love the anticipation, the joy, the magic, and the great feelings it can provide. For some, it brings up difficult memories, or it can bring sadness over loved ones no longer with us. And though missing them is hard, sometimes the joy of those holiday memories outweighs the pain. This is my first year without my mom. She was all about Christmas, and even last year, she had her tree beautifully decorated; though it was a much bigger chore in her mid-90s, she always looked forward to it. 

Have you stopped to think about your precious Christmas memories?

Christmas Magic

I love the wonder of not being able to sleep the night before, of wanting something so badly that I was nervous whether Santa would show up. I still remember that gold-colored Schwinn bike sitting unwrapped under the tree — it was so exciting. Another year it was an artist’s easel, which I suppose was a prediction of what was to come. 

Christmas Mission

This year for Christmas I have a special mission. Instead of my red hat, I’m putting on my Christmas ears. Rather than making things all about me and talking too much, I want to listen more carefully. When mom left us, there were unanswered questions about long-lost family members. This year my goal is to learn as much about my family as possible, try to find things I never knew about them, and of course try to document old family stories and history.

Will you be listening?

With Christmas comes anxiety for some, having to deal with difficult people, old family issues, and other pressures. But perhaps next week you can put all that aside, heal and forgive, and break the patterns that have plagued your relationships.

Don’t Carry Your Past

The reality is that no one on this earth is perfect. As parents, we make mistakes with our kids, though we all try to do the best we can. As siblings, there may be old rivalries we are clinging to from our childhood. Maybe we are stuck on something someone did 50 years ago. Let it go, if not for your relationship’s sake, for your own sanity. Harboring the negative causes internal festering that is hurting you physically and mentally without your realizing it. Be forgiving.

Make It Fun

Rather than dreading relationship issues or worrying about dealing with your weird aunt or with family members who have made bad choices, try to put it aside and make it fun. Do things as a family … play games, start the interesting conversations you never have, go for walks together, be playful by making snow angels or doing something else fun. Go out of your way, and if others remain sourpusses, ignore it and keep trying to draw them in.

How Many More Christmases?

My friend Richard Saul Wurman always talked about how many summers we each have left … and encouraged us to make every minute count. The same is true for Christmas. How many do you have left? Maybe a lot, maybe no more. We simply don’t know. 

For most, the magic of Christmas is the result of memories created by parents, grandparents, and friends. That magic does not have to be lost — each of us can play a role in bringing it back and making it special. Just have fun.

Oh, and no matter how passionate you are, and how differently someone thinks about politics, you can’t change their mind and they can’t change yours. Don’t even try. Our country is being divided by strong opinions. Leave them alone. Let Christmas be about common ground.

My Christmas Rule

Here is the Christmas Rule: At the beginning of gatherings, simply say, “No politics spoken here.” And if someone starts, “ding” your glass, and it will be a signal for everyone not to go there. 

I hope you make this holiday time special. Set a goal for yourself for something you want out of it … maybe, like me, it’s listening or learning, maybe it’s just having fun and creating memories, but be deliberate. Make it the best yet, and don’t take it for granted. What if it’s your last?

Merry Christmas.

Eric Rhoads

PS: One of the great joys of my life has been sitting here each Sunday morning to write my thoughts to share. I started out intending to share thoughts with my kids, to prepare them for life, and a friend suggested I share it with others. I’m told we’re hitting about a quarter million people each week because many of you are forwarding it to friends. Thank you, I’m very grateful. If you like what you see most of the time, I appreciate your forwarding to others and suggesting they subscribe for free. We would hit a million readers this week if each reader found four people to send it to. That would be nice.

I love hearing your feedback in the comments section, and I try to read them all. It means a lot that you would take the time.

One point I want to make … I don’t want to tell anyone how to live, what to think, what to believe. One lady objected to my mentioning God, but that’s part of who I am. If it offends you, know that it’s not my intent, and I hope you can read past it and find some value anyway. My intent is not to push anything on anyone, just to stimulate thought or conversation. 

One more thought … I’ve found that success in my life and my year is all about being deliberate. If you have some quiet time, think about where you want to be a year from now, and make a plan. I have several stories about that at www.coffeewitheric.com, which is also where you can subscribe.

I’m grateful for you, and for your taking the time to open and read these stories. Thank you!