Most of us have been or will be in this situation sooner or later: newly married, or newly serious, we have to decide whose family to spend Christmas with. The question can lead to conversations every bit as awkward as yesterday’s office holiday party; after all, which of us wants to tell mother we’re not coming for the holidays this year? Which of us wants to hear the hurt in her voice when she learns she won’t get to see her whole family, particularly if, horror of horrors, grandchildren are involved?
Many of us, if our families are close enough together, will perform some holiday acrobatics to avoid that moment: we’ll go to Grandma’s Christmas morning, then Nana’s for Christmas dinner. Or we’ll spend Christmas Eve with one family and Christmas Day with the other. And if there are step-parents involved, things can be even trickier. If we’re not careful, we can wear ourselves out making sure everybody’s holiday experience is what we think they want it to be–only to find everyone we worked so hard to see is disappointed because they didn’t get enough time with us, or offended because we were distracted thinking about all the other people we had to visit, or upset because we were too tired to engage with them like they hoped we would.
Of course, even if we don’t have that to worry about, there’s the folks who show up to our holiday dinner. Remember Uncle Charlie? Sure, he’s Dad’s brother, but we don’t see him much–neither does Dad–and he’s, shall we say, a bit eccentric. Maybe he’s opinionated and loud, or maybe he can’t eat anything with starch, or maybe he tells awful jokes, or has bad hair, or bad breath, or drinks too much and dances in the living room with his tie around his head. Or maybe it’s Aunt Gemma with her perfect family, four kids quiet and still again in their matching red and white sweaters, and she watches our kids run around like banshees with that superior little smile on her face. Or maybe it’s Cousin Wendy, home from school and asking everybody to call her Elle, who’s decided she’s a vegan and spends the whole meal talking about the cruelty of factory farms and slaughterhouses and how bad the sweet potato casserole and stuffing are for us.
See, the holidays can get ugly for all of us, even without that office party. It’s important to remember to meet our own needs as we try to navigate our way through. Have an egg nog, take a walk in the garden, have a good hug-and-tickle laugh with your kiddos where Aunt Gemma can see. And remember that your family–however crazy they are–is made up of individuals as much like you as they are different. Remember that they don’t have to be just like you, any more than you have to be just like them.
You’ll all be the better for it.