Discussing the holidays can be the proverbial landmine topic, as there are so many permutations of celebrating and every family is different in terms of traditions, how they relate, how things change over the years and our ability to navigate it all and feel as though it is a special time of year for each of us!
My family has many redeeming qualities individually and fallibilities, as all families do.
However, speaking in general, when all biological members gather combined with those who have married into the family portrait, it can go either way…having a good or less than satisfying result.
Depending upon the generation, parents view their brood in various ways. Parents who grew up in wartime want to maintain eternal bliss so they ignore and deny bad behavior of their children, focus on the past, or make excuses. After all, did they not grow up in an extended family with all under one roof in which everyone pulled together and made it work? Certainly! Even with millennials returning to the nest out of financial necessity, there’s no guarantee that family bliss will prevail.
Those families who “are tight” and maintain close relationships and communication 365 days a year have the best chance of riding out the rough seas and appreciating the good times.
Those who get together out of a sense of obligation may not fare as well. They may cling to their past images of family members, not acknowledging or making room for the growth of individual members, do not celebrate achievements for they are caught up in their own realities that may not include you.
If we impose other realities of life such as tragedies and loss of every variety- homicide, missing persons, addiction, divorce, other mental health issues, financial loss, poor physical health, loss of jobs- a Holly, Jolly Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa is even less likely!
In my experience, of observing and writing about others in this “tapestry of life” for six plus decades, I have noticed that those who have the least in terms of material goods tend to enjoy , appreciate and have the most generous hearts of all! There is no room for selfishness, narcissism or controlling behavior. It’s all in the attitude. When survival is a daily consideration and juggling this or that helps you get by… somehow helping others takes the focus off of your troubles.
Small children are the “great bonders” of family during the holidays! The joy and sparkle of anticipation is evident where we all vicariously become a child for a few hours through their eyes. Family tensions, hurts, disappointments dissolve as we watch them open their gifts.
Communication styles definitely have an impact too. Some may seethe in silence about an old hurt and not forgive; others in the family may have no filter and say whatever, whenever or mercilessly tease others because of their own insecurities. Some may confine themselves to “safe topics” only ( i.e. don’t bring up the member who was the victim of a crime or so and so’s “brush with the law” Whew!)
There are those who try to maintain a totally religious focus in the face of endless commercialism. For example, how is Baby Jesus supposed to compete with X-Box and Harry Potter?
What about gifts? Just because you are biologically related does not obligate you to give gifts to everyone. Whether they are homemade, offering a service or store bought, the sentiment should be the same if it is sincere. Don’t get sucked into, “He’s the only relation”
– (You fill in the blank). If that person makes no attempt to keep in touch, save your time and effort. You are not obligated just because others chose to make additions to the family.
Some families set a dollar limit or do a secret Santa grab bag to keep costs down or only buy for a certain generation.
If you change your family tradition, hold firm and do not give in to weakness or some sense of misplaced guilt you got from a Norman Rockwell. Rather, my message is that you must live with the bad and good , but also BE TRUE TO THYSELF. If you cannot abide by any of the scenarios described above, I recommend that you start a new tradition that gives you joy. It can include selected family members or not. Perhaps you can give to your favorite charity instead of buying gifts OR plan an event for your favorite non-profit. Whatever gives you joy during the holiday season – as long as it is GUILT FREE! Happy Holidays!