Hallmark Christmas-Not

I was an only child, and both sets of grandparents lived in the same city where I grew up with my parents. You would think the holidays would be a piece of cake.

The problem was the two sets of grandparents didn’t want to lay eyes on each other.

My parents and I exhausted ourselves trying to make everyone happy. Instead of being times of warm family interaction, Thanksgiving and Christmas were times to grit our teeth and just get through it.

I know others go through the same thing, and I feel for you. Right now, you’re breathing a sigh of relief because you made it through Thanksgiving. But Christmas music, lights and decorations remind you that you have to do it all again in a few weeks, which doesn’t exactly put you in the holiday spirit. Perhaps you simply avoid your family altogether during the holidays. Or maybe you live too far away from them to be together, and this leaves you on the fringes of the season.

Let me offer a few simple reminders that will help us all find joy in the next few weeks.

• Chosen family is still family. Since my wife, Mary, and I don’t have kids, and both of our families live out of town, we are fortunate to spend our holidays with “chosen family”—people we can count on when we need them and people we actually enjoy being with. A chosen family can fill the need for family, especially when biological families are too far away or too dysfunctional to share the holidays.

• Build memories, not gift piles. After my mother died, my father remarried, and I acquired a stepbrother. He likes to joke that, “It’s not the thought that counts, but how much it costs.” But we all get the point. We need to straighten up and quit shopping so much. Several years ago, when my stepbrother’s children were young, Mary gave them all sorts of lights and tacky tinsel to decorate their rooms. They don’t remember the gifts they received that year, but they do remember the Christmas when Aunt Mary let them go to town decorating their playroom. She also encouraged them to create a play, which they performed for us. The play was awful, but that’s not the point. They had fun, and we all remember the occasion with smiles.

• Share what’s good in your life. For some people, Christmas is a profoundly religious holiday. For others, it’s a bright spot in a dreary winter. Some celebrate other holidays at the same time of year. Whatever you observe this season, share what’s good in your life with the people who mean the most to you. Even if your family is a total mess, you can take stock of the people who do make your life better. Touch base with them over the next few weeks to let them know why they matter to you.

A Hallmark card may not resemble your life in the least, and the perfect snowy Christmas Eve with bells ringing and angels singing only happens in the movies. But there is always room to create a holiday worth remembering. All it takes is a little imagination.

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