“Attention, shoppers. Your Kroger store closes in 15 minutes. Please make your final selections and proceed to the checkout.” It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and shoppers, rushing to aquire milk, eggs and lunch supplies for the week ahead, fill their carts to the tune of, It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Honestly, here in Memphis, Tennessee, it’s really not.
The dark, rainy days typical of a late, midsouth November would never grace a Christmas card. It’s downright dreary here. Most of us are coughing, fiddling with the thermostats both at home and in the car, trying to find the perfect temperature that will produce neither a foggy heat wave or a nasty chill. No two people in the same house ever agree on that set point. Weather warriors can be observed in various states of dress or undress in a desperate attempt not to melt or freeze, while battling the cloud of humidity and mucous that has settled in their heads and chests.
Is it any wonder some people feel a slight edge of irritation upon hearing a Christmas song before they’ve managed to even clear the Thanksgiving leftovers out of the refrigerator?
Still a child at heart, I’ve always been ready for the carols and the decorations. I love Christmas and everything it represents, from the baby in the manger to the magic in a snow globe. What I have dreaded is navigating the “how many houses can we cover in a 24 hour period, to keep all the relatives happy” marathon. I was eighteen the first time I faced that challenge and have come to dread both Thanksgiving and December 25th ever since. As chronic illness has created a drain on my physical stamina, the toll holiday obligations take on my emotional and energy resources has increased with every passing year. I love the people. I just enjoy a less hectic, more intimate experience. I want to be able to linger with one group without having to cut off another. If I didn’t care so much, this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but I do, so it is.
In the early years, my husband and I had four (sometimes five) places we felt obligated to show up on Thanksgiving and Christmas or Christmas Eve. My husband’s Granny, his Mom, his Dad, and my parents, all deserved a significant amount of our time on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Three of those visits usually had an appointed hour for us to show up, and often those appointments were simultaneous. Just how many places can one be at Noon on Christmas Day? Add your own children to the mix, and you’re struggling to find a time to have your own private, family celebration as well.
Because I highly value family, I’m sure I created a lot of my own internal pressure and guilt. I felt it was wrong to not visit Granny on Christmas. Just because Mom and Dad divorced was no reason to leave Dad by himself on Christmas. My little brother, only four when I married, opened his gifts on Christmas morning. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world!
The truth is, we really want to spend special time with those we love during the holidays. Surely adults could sit down and make a variety of alternative plans to be able to do this without ending up in a state of emotional and physical trauma, couldn’t they? Still, as a family grows, everyone has in-laws and work schedules to juggle. There is no way to accomodate every individual in a single event.
Still, families create their own complications. Some people think family gatherings must always happen on the actual holiday even if an alternative date would allow more participation and a more relaxing time together. Some mothers/in laws are flexible, while others set the same time each year and never budge. Some people are determined it is never okay to eat out occasionally instead of cooking. Others believe choosing to have party fare (easily prepared ahead of time) one year instead of the traditional, overwhelming feast is sacrilege. Those who insist upon having a huge feast and a huge crowd work themselves into a migraine headache, but refuse to even discuss alternatives. They start believing that family members who don’t make the same level of commitment to the feast do not care about family or Christmas as much as they do.
Somewhere in the middle of this marathon of togetherness, do we lose the very purpose of the family celebrations? Do we lose the love amidst the guilt? Do we lose the intimacy in the crowd? Do we miss the fellowship in the mad dash from one place to another? Do we lose the day and all it means even as we are determined to observe it?
Have you already found yourself just not in the mood for Christmas? Or are you just not in the mood for a marathon?
How can we create the deeper fellowship we long for and the memories we want to pass on to the next generation? Please share your approach to keeping seasonal family celebrations both manageable and enjoyable. We can learn from each other!