This is supposed to “the most wonderful time of the year”, though I would be remiss for failing to address the idea that the holidays stir up mixed emotions for many. I happen to categorize myself with that population, but I am still working at it.
By all accounts, I have step siblings nearly a decade older than myself from my father’s remarriage, but I didn’t really grow up with them. If asked, I mainly identify as an only child. Family holiday get togethers can be tricky, since I am usually trying to figure out how to juggle sides of the family to make an appearance at and in what order. Further, I get to gauge what I contribute to the party conversation, as the majority of my family has a differing viewpoint on politics and policy which usually becomes abundantly clear once the small talk of checking in on other members not present at the party wanes.
My once habitual “speak only when spoken to, directly and succinctly respond ” routine to maybe one day convince certain family members that civil disagreement but respectful dialogue was possible is still really only a theory. I may have blown it last Memorial Day, when as I have gotten older, the more I have decided to speak up against what I think is misinformation. In practice, I am still usually the youngest person in the room by about 30 years who either “just doesn’t understand” or sees that “it was a different time back then” or to whom a broad overgeneralization “doesn’t apply” before saying something grotesque. I’ve made my peace with it, and I am not going to change anyone (nor a room full of) anyone else’s belief systems over the period of a holiday meal. I have yet to be assured by the relatives of the same.
Added to the mix of that bittersweet holiday cycle, I find myself as someone who struggles to find holiday cheer. I try to engage authentically with people, and not every day is as perky as the season portrays. I’d love to be a Norman Rockwell painting, but that’s just not my truth.
From a religious standpoint, I understand the tradition of the stories that are told and the excitement of the narrative crafted and passed down. On a practical side however, I don’t possess many warm feelings about this time of year, despite trying to find and share some festivities. To be clear, I am very grateful for many of the Christmases I have experienced, and each of my parents did their best to provide.
But I also remember a Christmas where a family bank account was drained by a parent’s romantic interest before they left. I remember not fully understanding the depth of the event, but having to comfort and pick up the pieces.
Separately, I remember a holiday spent with a grieving spouse who lost a parent. We met a party of my family at a Denny’s across town on Christmas morning at their request, as we sat there figuring out how to make small talk. It was awkward and felt more like sitting shiva than a pleasant holiday brunch.
So, while I understand that these do not reflect the majority of Christmases I have experienced, they are clear and powerful memories I carry.
I try to rekindle the excitement about the holidays by creating routine. I watch certain holiday movies (yes, including Die Hard). I set out the punched metal tree and hang stockings. I’ve started collecting certain Christmas music on vinyl. Covers of familiar songs, and even holiday originals. Sharing one of these a year with you has become part of my tradition, so if the picture appears familiar, that’s intentional.
This year, I found a vintage “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer/ Twas the Night before Christmas” record on Cricket Records. Cricket, known for primarily creating records for kids, just felt right for the season. The way that kids light up in complete bliss for Christmas is something I envy. The record, which spins at the 78 rpm even though on a 7″ piece of vinyl, is a little warped, but includes a great trumpet breakdown. Kids records tend to have quite a bit of wear in the little experience I have with them. This record was in better shape than many, I am guessing because of the holiday nature of it.
What I really want to say is that as the year comes to a close, that I am thankful for you. Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect, and if you feel like yours is not, know that you aren’t alone. But I hope you are able to find and/or create traditions that are meaningful for you. Until we meet again, be kind to one another and all the desserts are calorie free until the new year.