Coming home for Christmas from San Francisco was like traveling to a different country. All the people slowed down, all the recipes involved butter, and all of the humor referred to California and involved fruits and nuts.

My parents are Southern; I wanted to be of the World. I proselytized West Coast living. My parents proselytized the 1950s. I was an independent woman working through dotcom layoffs obsessed with figuring out my career identity. My parents wanted to know if I intended to marry my boyfriend. “When you call Granny to wish her a Merry Christmas, don’t tell her you’re living together,” they would advise.

We had cinnamon rolls with coffee on Christmas morning, we opened presents, we had Christmas dinner with friends, and we wore red sweaters. But we also did lots of side stepping, as I expect we will do again this year even though I’m now married and employed.

Family dynamics don’t change just because it’s Christmas. You may be expected to be on your best behavior, but the buttons don’t stop being pressed. And life’s accomplishments don’t always work themselves out in time to impress friends and family for the holidays. Actively participating in your journey, no matter how much it may deviate from what you came from, is all you need to be for the holidays.