I can clearly remember Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house when I was growing up.
The table was nearly too long for the dining area, and the card table set up at the end put us kids into the living room. The log house that my grandparents had built when my mom and siblings were young was the perfect country setting for our cozy holiday celebration. Between the exposed logs, the rod iron chandeliers, the modest kitchen adorned with handmade baskets and antique dishes, I felt like I could be in a scene from “Little House on the Prairie”. Sometimes my sisters and I would wear little white bonnets, as we imagined Pilgrim children would’ve worn on the first Thanksgiving day. And after eating to our little heart’s content, we would play board games at the dining room table as a family. My favorite was, and still is, Pictionary.
Christmas was similar- my mom, two sisters and brother would meet my aunts, uncles and cousins at my grandmother’s log home. We would pile presents up next to and under her asymmetrical Christmas tree that she cut down from her yard, and gather around her rustic fireplace. Us kids would step over the adults to get over to the tree where we would pick out presents for others to open, trying to keep a fair rotation of present-opening. We would eat a large meal together, complete with pies and tarts, and go back to our respective homes to play with our new toys and gadgets.
Somewhere between the quintessential holiday get-togethers of my childhood to present day, our family fell apart.
And not in an angry, fiery way, with explosive fights (at least not that I can remember); but, in an indifferent, apathetic way. Before I knew it, the relationships between my grandmother, mothers, aunts and uncles had crumbled. They won’t speak to one another, they won’t call to see how the other is doing, and they certainly won’t be celebrating any holidays together.
A large part of me doesn’t understand what caused this massive decay of our family, and I wish so badly that there was something I could do to patch the wounds.
Unfortunately, I can’t. I won’t pick sides, and I remain a neutral territory. Like Switzerland. Both of us trying to protect our citizens; mine being my two young sons.
Now that I have my own nuclear family, we could easily spend the holidays in our own home, tucked quietly away from the turmoil of my extended family. However, I want to spend the holidays with my family. I still love each and every one of them, and they are all very important to me, my husband and our kids. We just have to be more creative about divvying up our time. Thanksgiving is usually a two-day affair, with one meal happening on the actual day with parts of my family or my husband’s, and the following day, or weekend, we are binging on turkey and cranberry sauce a second time. Christmas is pretty drawn out as well; we start celebrating on Christmas Eve, spend some time to ourselves early Christmas morning, then my mom and/or grandmother usually come over to our house mid-morning. In recent years we would also go to my in-laws’ later Christmas day or the following day, but they have recently moved out of the state.
I actually don’t mind having multiple celebrations span the course of a few days; the more parties the better! I do mind the stress, anxiety, and hurt feelings that can come with the holidays. It can feel burdensome, trying to appease everyone by splitting up our time equally. And as another holiday season rolls around, it becomes more apparent that another year is coming to an end, where family members are still not in one another’s lives. I want to throw my hands up and yell, “enough already!” but in the interest of making the most out of the holidays without upsetting anyone, and keeping my kids naive to the current state of affairs, I just do my best to spend quality time with the people that matter to us.
The holidays are still so magical to our children, I would never want to ruin that by bringing to light the bitterness among our family members.
As they get older, I anticipate they will have questions about why we have separate Christmases. I’m not entirely sure how I will answer; but I do know that I would never ask them to pick sides, and I can only hope that they are able to spend the holidays with whomever they choose, regardless of that person’s animosity towards another.