Christmas with estranged family is hard.

I grew up spending Christmas with lots of family. On Christmas Eve aunts, uncles, and cousins would come together to open presents with my grandpa and step-grandma. Later, on Christmas Day, that same group of family would spend dinner opening presents at my grandma’s house. My immediate family spent the morning of Christmas together with our own traditions, and some years my mom’s parents would even travel the seven hours from home to see us on Christmas.

I think back to those times, how loud the house was with voices talking over each other, kids goofing off and playing with each other, catching up with family that we hadn’t seen in weeks, or months.

The kitchens were busy with oven timers ringing, the microwave beeping, and scurrying around to make sure there was enough food. There was always so much food.

That seems like a lifetime ago.

It’s been over five years now since we celebrated Christmas that way. It’s been more than five years since I heard from those same aunts and uncles, cousins, and even grandparents.

No one died, no one moved, we just stopped hearing from them.

I gave birth to two beautiful, healthy babies. We bought a house. Got a dog. And we have yet to hear from any of them.

During the year I typically don’t think about it. I did my part and reached out to every single one of them, asking what was going on and why they didn’t want a relationship with me. It hurt, very deeply, when no one got back to me, but I’ve fought to heal from that and move on. We have friends that care about us deeply, and have even been blessed with great neighbors, but no one really takes the place of those people in your life who are supposed to be there, and aren’t.

The holidays feel different now. It’s a smaller celebration, with less gifts to buy. And even though that puts less of a financial strain on us this time of year, I can’t say we’re happy about it.

I find myself thinking about how they celebrate Christmas now. Do they still get together? Do they notice that we’re missing from the celebration? Do they think about us when they are talking about how much family means to them?

Do they know about my kids? Do they wonder what they look like, and what things they like? Do they think about their kids not growing up with them too?

My kids are growing up without the extended family I had. They’re growing up separate from most of their second-cousins, great-grandparents, and great-aunts and uncles. It’s really unfortunate.

But we are trying not to let that damper what this holiday is about.

We believe that Christmas is a time to celebrate, not because we have family that loves us, but because we have a God who loved us enough to send his son for us – starting with his birth on Christmas Day.

And ultimately, if that’s all we have to be thankful for this Christmas, then we’re still abundantly blessed.

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