As the holiday season is already swinging into high gear, so are the many emotions of infrequent, high pressure gatherings, and even the “casual” get togethers have their own unique brand of lunacy. Let the roller coasters begin! All over the world, rituals are being started, discarded and in too many cases squabbled over for dominance, all in the name of sacred tradition. One of the saddest movies I ever saw was Holly Hunter’s “Home for the Holidays”, back in 1995. Not a happy, fuzzy wuzzy, feel good, kind of holiday movie and I know so many people who liked it but, when it came down to explaining why, the answer was peculiarly similar for ever person. “It was smart and funny and, it was just so real!” came the reply, the last part almost verbatim from people with all different backgrounds and families. The only other common answer was something along the lines of: “I’m glad my family isn’t like that!”, or “That movie makes my family look sane!”.
It’s messy and dreadful and weirdly poignant, just like real life! Awkward moments abound when family gathers for the annual Thanksgiving meal, there are many issues dying to come out, siblings protect each other from enemy fire, and it is probably best portrayed by Holly’s character, Claudia when she says: “Nobody means what they say on Thanksgiving, Mom. That’s what the holiday is all about. Torture.”
I remember Thanksgiving as an impossibly long routine of going to the grandparent’s house, having an age appropriate drink, minimal socializing and then being dismissed to watch the Twilight Zone marathon on television while the grownups chatted for at least 4 or 5 episodes and then, finally, we ate. This was followed by more socializing, and then long farewells and hugs and kisses and out the door until a month later we gathered for Christmas. I loved seeing my family, we had lived overseas for 9 years and missed out on all routine traditions families usually gather for, except for home leaves at Christmas, and then everyone is on their best behavior and there are presents to distract and detour any head on collisions. Holidays are unique ecosystems unto themselves. Snapshots of chaos, blown into historical proportions as stories are exaggerated and spread each year to newcomers about what happened previously to any number of people present.
As any family tree splinters off into smaller, greener branches, the separation can be difficult, perhaps because the paradigm is shifting and the children who were not in authority are now grown and so become authority. This means the ones used to being solely in authority now have an obligation although not always a willingness, to share the podium and acknowledge what before they could simply control without question. It makes for an interesting scene as perceptions are skewed and observations are made, both good and bad.
This holiday season, whatever holiday you’re celebrating, give yourself a break and just enjoy where you are and who you’re with, you just might surprise yourself…and everyone else! Merry Christmas!