As the holiday season nears (in 3 days it begins for me with Thanksgiving), I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the significance of spending holidays with the family.
I know that once November hits, I’ll begin to get phone calls on a weekly basis asking me what my plans are for the holidays. Am I spending Thanksgiving with this side of the family? Where will I be for Christmas? What about Christmas Eve? What do you mean you’re not spending Thanksgiving with us this year?
It’s a never-ending flood. I can’t disappear for the holidays, and if I don’t show up, both sides of my family will call out the National Guard to track me down and bring me in. There is, apparently, no excuse for spending Thanksgiving or Christmas alone. I have to spend it with family, no matter what my thoughts are on the matter.
Why would I not want to spend the holidays with family? Hmm…that’s a loaded question, and only part of it deals with the religious aspect. Let’s address that first, then.
Grace. I don’t know what to do when the family announces it’s time to say grace. Usually I bow my head in respect for their beliefs and traditions and say a little thank you silently for the bounty and good things to my own personal gods, but I still feel uncomfortable, as if I am looking in on a ritual that I shouldn’t be witness to. The family, I know, assumes I’m still Christian–only 2 people in my family know I am not. For those few moments of prayer I feel like the outsider, like I don’t particularly belong with this group of strangers. One reason to avoid the holiday ritualistic feast.
Another is that the holidays, Thanksgiving in particular, hold little special meaning for me. Thanksgiving has always only been a time of good food and gathering for me, not a “real” holiday. So the Pilgrims survived–good for them, I’m glad they did, but I never really liked the Pilgrims anyway. The Salem witch hunts started in the area the Pilgrims settled in, so I feel no connection with the people who supposedly were first in our country from Europe. Whoop-dee-doo.
And Christmas isn’t truly a holiday I celebrate. When I was a kid it was all about the presents and Santa Claus and Christmas morning. As I grew older there were fewer presents, but just as much fun and cheer placed on the sharing of gifts between family and spending time together. On occasion I was forced to go to church, either on Christmas day or Christmas eve, but I felt no real connection with the religious significance of the holiday (plus, church was boring as a kid. I fell asleep a lot!). Now, I celebrate Yule, which, yes, bears a great deal of significance to the Christian holiday, but it isn’t Christmas, which is what my family celebrates. I have no idea how to turn down those offers to go to church with the family without being awkward. My usual answer is that I’m going with the other side of my family, and that solves the issue, but then I only feel guilty about lying, even if it’s a small lie.
As for the other reasons I wouldn’t want to spend holidays with family…yeah, the food is absolutely fantastic, but then I have to listen to conversations about topics I’m not even remotely interested in (church, their kids’ activities, etc) and watch NFL football (I’m only a college football fan). Plus, I have to answer questions about my life from people I’m not even close to–how’s school going, what do I want to do, how’s work, what do I want to do, how’s my apartment, my cat, my truck, what do I want to do, how are my friends, and the icing on the cake: do I go to church at all? That last one is relatively rare, but it does come up. Awkward.
Add in that I have to drive all over the state of Maryland in order to visit with family that I only see pretty much twice a year, and I quickly come to dislike the holidays. No one makes a fuss about Easter…why do they make such a fuss about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Just send me my presents and the leftovers from the feasts, and I’m a happy camper. For the rest of it, if I want to celebrate at all, then let me celebrate in my own way!
You shouldn’t be forced to celebrate holidays that have little to no meaning to you if you really don’t want to. Free will, and all that.