The 2018 holiday season has concluded. If you are reading this, I can only assume you survived. There are 14 (at least) religious holidays alone in the month of December. I celebrate Christmas and can assure you that is plenty. I have been pondering why holidays are so very stressful and furthermore why we continue to gather when it seems it drives many to the brink of insanity. My holiday season this year was actually not stressful which gave me some good time to think on it instead of hiding in the bathroom in the fetal position (that was so 2004 me). But-Why do we do even do this to ourselves? What is causing all this strain? So much drama. There is the obvious. The excess. Too much food. Too much family. Too much on the schedule. Too much running around. Too much alcohol. Too much money spent. Too much expectation. Too many personalities. Too large a gap between hopes and reality. Too much of everything.
I had a mostly idyllic childhood filled with fun holidays. I know. Nauseating right? We had family over. We had good food. We had our traditions. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. Predictable characters and patterns. We opened gifts in order of age and on Christmas Eve. I received Love’s Baby Soft many years in a row. I ate rolls and cookies for dinner. We had weird cousins. My brother wisely remarked one year that we are their weird cousins because if you don’t think you have any in your family…you are the weird cousins. It’s okay. Even weird cousins are loved by loved ones and children of God and all that. And I wasn’t even aware of families who lamented holidays until college. I was living in a blissful holiday bubble. Also-can we go back to the 70’s? Bold fashion choices. BOLD.
And as I aged and met more and more people, and got married and started to try to meld family traditions and meet all the expectations, I became aware. Acutely aware. (Commence hiding in the bathroom)
Holidays are not cause for celebration for everyone.
Some are trying to heal from past disappointment. Some are trying to carry on traditions that are plain unreasonable. Some are nice quiet people who do not like chaos. Some people have very difficult names on their guest list. Some months are tough enough without adding a dinner that includes fatty foods and arguing. Some families are nuts.
A generation (or two) ago families got together and got together often. Many extended families lived near one another. (My grandmother lived in Prospect Park in Minneapolis and they had Sunday dinner together. The entire extended family. Every Sunday.) Which is to say that a big holiday like Christmas was just one more on the list of many occasions throughout the year spent with extended family.
It might be the only time of the year to gather. People fly all over the country and all over the world to “go home” for Christmas. It’s the one time to see the cousins. It’s the one chance for so and so and such and such to interact. It’s when we take many more photos because we are all finally in the same space. Or possibly you are an “every other year” family. So basically, we have elevated the holiday to either SUPERBOWL or WINTER OLYMPIC frequency and expectation. And with infrequency comes the pressure to make it the end all be all most special most everything day of the year. Good grief. Who wants to try to participate in let alone execute that?
And then layered on top of the heightened sense of expectation can be a thin layer of pain. Probably for everyone. This I feel. I think the common denominator is memory. The holiday season brings up so many memories of every ilk. Good holiday memories make me nostalgic and wistful. Bad holiday memories make me sad and regretful. Maybe we miss a tradition that got swept away with time. Maybe we always wanted to start a new tradition but couldn’t. Maybe we are missing someone around our table. Maybe we always intend to make Swedish Kringle but couldn’t fit it in this year. (damn) Maybe the joy is missing this year. And ALL of that plus a tired crowd and Uncle Crazy Town starts a political conversation with Grandma. And….KA-BOOM!
My brother bought me a gift this Christmas. We are not supposed to exchange per new family rules. But not listening or following any Christmas giving rules might be our most long cherished family tradition.
The acquisition of this set comes with a great story unto itself. (he tells it better but I’ll summarize) Tracking one down. 40 phone calls to antique stores. Research. An hour drive north to pick it up. Realizing it was not as advertised. Colorful language. But this is the set he gave me and I absolutely cherish it. It’s at least 55 years old. And while I am hardly passionate about all things vintage…this I adore. Because it brings it all back in all the best ways. My dad. My mom. Our family together. Being young and waiting for Santa. Being in college and still waiting for Santa. Did you know Santa still fills your stocking in college? He does because SHE is awesome and magical. The Tom and Jerry’s. (If you haven’t had one, you really must. The rich batter. The rum and brandy. The fresh nutmeg. It truly is a taste sensation. I recommend one. I do NOT recommend 3.) The joy. The loss.
So I’m thankful for all the shitty holidays. All the times it just didn’t come together. The year we were at the Minute Clinic on Christmas Eve. The year my son gave himself a black eye 10 minutes before family arrived. Occasionally when a family member lost their minds and said something ridiculous. When someone forgot the orange juice or didn’t show up or showed up with extra people or when we were all trapped inside in -20 degree weather. Because it made me appreciate this year. It was a good one. I was reminded of so many people I have loved and do love and so many shared experiences and traditions. I appreciate that each year is steeped in tradition and yet a tiny bit different. And moving away from the pressure of the perfect experience and toward the gratitude helps me enjoy it. And enjoy I did.
Cheers to 2019. May we all focus on the micro moments of joy. Because not every year is great or becomes a favorite…but every year has moments of greatness and creates favorite memories to be cherished down the road.
*Note: LOOK at Santa in 1978 and 1979. They hired him AGAIN!??? He does not smell like Santa. He smells like beef and cheese. For sure.