The holidays

“We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

Eeyore (A.A. Milne)

My family has never pulled off a Norman Rockwell/Martha Stewart/Rachel Ray sort of holiday season. We are a lot more like National Lampoon Family Christmas. A whole lot more: one year we had a water spout from a broken pipe and a dog die. Grandma was our Chevy Chase: she wanted it traditional with all the knick-knacks and whistles that would fit on her window sill.

At this point we are a motley crew of a family. Kluged together from the bits and pieces that are still alive and care enough to tolerate the quirks and imperfections of each other. Who from this elite group actually shows up varies from year to year. The dogs always show up, and sometimes we have as many canines as humans.

Things changed with time

The good old days.

Before my grandparents moved to California we always spent Christmas Eve with my father’s family, Christmas morning at home then went to Grandma’s for Christmas day dinner.

Our faithful old station wagon got us to the desert.

Of course that changed when they moved to California. I mentioned in a previous post that we took a car trip down to spend Christmas with them the first year that they lived in California. Mostly we didn’t do that. I’m not sure we would have all survived to adulthood if we had. One year they came up but, because we lived down a steep trail, they couldn’t stay with us so that wasn’t repeated.

After my parent’s divorce we rarely spent the holidays together with my grandparents. My mother inherited their love of the holidays, but not so much of the spirit of sharing. So our holidays were centered around her home and my grandparents would send a Christmas in a box with everything from oranges and cookies to gifts.

The next major change for me was when my son was born. After a disastrous Christmas trip to Texas where my poor child wound up wearing a soiled diaper for several hours because of weather related travel problems and turbulence, I declared that I was going to stay home for the holidays and people could come to my house or not. My grandparents started coming up for Christmas. We did go down once when James was eight or so.

With no young children in the family Grandma became the focus of our merry making. As grandma got older I was the one who wound up trying to make the merry happen, often to strict orders.

Fortunately, I had a great deal of catering experience from doing events at church, I have organized elaborate events for a hundred people several times, so the food, always critical to having a good time (or at least good memories), doesn’t feel like a burden. Managing the herd of cats that is our family was tougher.

The burden was the expectation that I could both produce the party and, at the same time, sit patiently and be present. Since I made an effort to be calm and pleasant in the face of a long to-do list, even when I had a headache and wanted to crawl into a hole, she seemed to think I wasn’t busy and asked me to arrange knick-knacks, find batteries for her Santa House, procure eggnog, not forget to pick up the type of tissues she liked… At times I felt like I was being punished for being nice.

I know this is wrong. I know that she really just wanted us to be with her, to have reasons to stop by. But it was how I felt at times, especially when she would ask what I had been doing, as if I was, in addition to putting on the party, running errands and being there, supposed be out doing things and having fun so I had stories to tell as well.

Fortunately, I have a sister, who was able to come and help Grandma decorate and arrange her knick-knacks the weekend after Thanksgiving the last couple of years. I generally “celebrate” Black Friday by hiding.

I do it my way.

I’m actually not the Grinch you might have thought from the rant above. I like the holidays, in my own way. I space things out. I finish with Thanksgiving before I think about Advent and Christmas.

I’m not real big on the whole Christmas morning thing. I call that “consumer-fest”, honestly it has always seemed like nothing could be less Christ-like than the “traditional” Christmas morning scrum under the tree. I used to have a St. Nicholas Day tea party for my son and nieces. My nieces father’s family did Christmas big (I never understood why since they are Buddhists and atheists) and I wasn’t going to compete.

Almost Christmas: the four advent candles are lit. It's time for a peaceful evening by the fire with my cat.
I love my family but a quiet evening by the fire is my idea of a great holiday.

I celebrate Advent, lighting a new candle each Sunday, decorating for Christmas a bit more each week and doing one or two seasonal things that I enjoy each week.

Lessons Learned

COMING SOON: Aunt Kate’s Safe and Sane Guide to the Holidays.

One thought on “The holidays”

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