The Holiday Question

I like some traditions, but a lot of them have become progressively harder to enjoy. For example, I typically love the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva, but I almost always dislike wakes. Evidently, I’m picky about how I approach death.

A Hug

I’m also picky about Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. While I love expressing gratitude, hugging those I love, singing songs, and honoring important religious beliefs, I do have an issue with “Thou shalt spend time with family whether thou or any of thine relations like it or not.”

The issue is really about managing expectations. When I was a little boy, the TV and movie images we watched spoiled me for life. Even after my Dad left us (I was 12), my mom set a great table and always did her best to make the holidays special. Kudos to her. But I have yet to have a holiday that equals the ones I had as a tike or saw on TV. Lately, my Mom has admitted that the same goes for her. I guess some of us have trouble finding the simple beauty and real reasons for the holidays under all of the hoopla.

That said, I think that I/we can be happy during the holidays by finding a middle path. To do so, we need to create our own traditions and, perhaps, throw out what doesn’t work for us. We need to consider, “what would I really, really REALLY like to do this time of year?” The answer to that question may surprise you. The ability to do it might seem as unlikely and impossible because we are, for the most part, attached to our family traditions (including guilt and shame). We have a herd mentaility!

Nothing is harder for me and most of the people I’ve met than bucking a family get-together over the holidays. In fact, most people would not even consider it. To do so would upset too many relatives. The thought goes, “How in the world could I miss it? Everyone depends upon me!”

The middle path is always right in front of us: we are adults and can do whatever we want. A tradition is not a legally binding responsibility. We don’t have to do anything! And if we don’t like the holidays? Why the heck are we attending? And what are we teaching our children?

I will now breathe.

Oh, I can hear your petitions from here. They begin with, “it’s really not that bad” or “my mother would kill me” or “what am I gonna do? Go on vacation? I’d feel too guilty!”

I’m going to take two breaths after that one.

My birth-family no longer has a home where we all meet. My parents live in a senior residence and they’re not going to be hosting a huge get-together, nor should they. Beth and I sold our home and my kids and my brother don’t have families or homes where we can gather. So, Beth, Helen, Scott and Steph are free agents. And while free agency has its perks, it’s also a little like being homeless.

Beth and I are examining our options. We have an invitation from friends for Thanksgiving. We could go to Kripalu for Christmas. No surprise – after a year of doing things the way we wanted on the road – we’re well-practiced at making decisions about where we want to go next AND figuring out what makes us happy. We also know that trying to make everyone else happy (and watching others do the same) rarely makes anyone happy.

In this moment, I don’t know the answer to “where will we spend the holidays?” and that’s okay. Heck, I just decided where we’ll spend this weekend!

We’ve always got options. And I understand that saying “yes” to one means saying “no thank you” to another. Such is adulthood.

May we know that the holidays are just days. May we remember that our life is already about loving, hugging, singing, serving and giving thanks. May we come to understand that life, indeed, is not like it is on those old TV shows, but that’s okay. Real life is messier, less perfect and, maybe, just maybe, better that way. May we come to accept what is.


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