Christmastime can be a delicate time, a balancing act. There are many traditions to keep up, but new things to try, and as you get older there are more responsibilities to balance, like work, travel and family additions. I’ve been lucky and spent every Christmas I can remember with my family, many with extended family, even if I can only squeeze in a trip for a few days. It’s likely I won’t be able to keep this up forever, but almost-30 years of family Christmases is a good run, right? Traditions, or at least habits, are one of the things I like the best about going home; they’re relaxing for somebody like me. Going home I rarely have to worry about what to expect, and can usually get away with minimal packing or planning, and it makes the holidays surprisingly relaxing. Barring terrible travel weather in Chicago, of course, which is always a risk. My biggest decision when going home is whether I want to nag my mom for some home-cooked favorites or treat myself to eating out a lot at my favorite spots.

My family is a Christmas-on-Christmas-Day family, at least when we’re at home. We usually go light viewing a few nights before Christmas, and then wake up Christmas morning and do stockings first thing. When we were little, my parents had to tell us when was the earliest we could get them up. Now that we’re older, Mom threatens to start returning gifts after 9 am, and it’s usually a pretty close call. After stockings comes breakfast, now a brunch prepared by my sister and I, and then presents. We don’t have any traditional holiday meals, I guess, unless you count cookies and whiskey sours as a meal. Which I probably would, if it came to it. Last year we had jambalaya and red beans and rice for Christmas Eve … I think another year Christmas dinner was my mom’s amazing enchiladas.

Dad will typically get extremely involved in whatever the first present he opens is, and has to be hurried along to the rest of the day’s activities. When we were little, I recall asking for a lot of things for our American Girl dolls, and one memorable Christmas we destroyed the downstairs bathroom with Barbie pool party activities. Now the gifts aren’t so much of a process, which means having to get more creative. My sister and I usually pick an activity to do together – catch a show, a nice dinner out, accidentally spending $24 on a glass of sparkling wine … – and often get our parents activities as well. There’s a good bet there’ll be a round of books in there, and we’re usually tucked into those well before noon. Usually there’s a movie or some tv in the afternoon before dinner, and that’s when we’ll call around to wish extended family well. One year, it turned out everybody was watching the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie at the same time. Last year, there was a hilarious multi-family, multi-city Skype fest.

I’m hoping this year will be much the same – good food, quality time with family and friends, access to my parents’ DVR, and ample naps.