Our first Christmas card this year is from an old friend- a woman I worked with from 1986 to 1991. We don’t correspond often anymore, but we haven’t lost touch either. Knowing that she is happy and healthy brings joy to my heart. One of our co-workers died a few years ago. Others are scattered afar and no longer keep in touch with either of us. But a few left from our group share some happy memories.
I’ve thought long and often about the differences between family and friends. Although there are some people in my life who qualify as both, for the most part our friends are people we choose to share our lives with. Family members are more often the people our mothers forced us to share with! “Now be nice to your cousin Joe, even if he is mean and calls you monkey face!” This is never more evident than at Christmas time.
One of the topics being discussed on talk shows across the country is how to survive holiday dinners with family members who drive you crazy. While most of the shows focus on in-laws and “steps”, it is often the relatives who are close in blood, but distant by location, who are the most annoying. I knew instinctively as a child that I should love all of my aunts and uncles and cousins and great-aunts and uncles, but I didn’t see them often enough to have much of a bond with some of them. I definitely had strong feelings about the great-uncle who called me “ugly” and the great-aunt who made fun of my country ways. She once asked incredulously, “Haven’t you ever seen a mink before?” Well, no, not without its feet!! One of my cousins threatened to punch me if I told anyone he smoked. Another called me a “sissy”. My parents had similar problems dealing with the expectations of their siblings and other relatives. There was always an underlying tension at the table. Families are not always the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings.
That being said, we all have a few family members we would choose to share our lives with and we can’t wait to sit across from them at a holiday dinner. Time, distance, and circumstances don’t always make that possible. So the holidays are a mixed bag of emotions. We find ourselves spending time with people we don’t enjoy and missing those we do. My advice to everyone is to stay calm and remember that the holidays are just a tiny fraction of our year. Annoying relatives go home. You may have an opportunity later in the year to spend time with your favorite people. It is our own expectations and actions that make the holidays stressful. Don’t let yours interfere with the true meaning of Christmas.