Holidays Leave Me Overwhelmed and Nostalgic by
(120 Stories)

Prompted By Holidaze

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I went to the grocery store the day after Halloween and there it was – the Christmas display. Even though Thanksgiving foods were prominently featured, there was no escaping that, before I knew it, the December holidays would be here. With two of my children and their children living out of town, I started to feel anxious. Would we all be able to be together? Probably not. That meant I would travel to Avon, Indiana at the end of November for a late Thanksgiving and Newton, Massachusetts last weekend for a combined grandson birthday/early holiday visit.

Family gathering circa 1948. I’m the second kid from the left.

I have no control over the holidaze. The only thing I can control is how I respond to it.

Growing up, holidays were rather simple. My extended family all lived relatively close to one another. Because we were Jewish, most of our holiday gatherings centered on food. We gathered together for Rosh Hashanah dinners, Yom Kippur break-the-fasts, and Passover meals. Thanksgiving meant turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberries that came in a can, and green beans with French’s fried onions and cream of mushroom soup. But December holidays were not a big deal. We may have had potato latkes, but Hanukkah was no Christmas-substitute. I remember a few modest gifts and gelt (money), both chocolate and maybe a silver dollar.

By the time I was raising my family, Hanukkah had morphed into a Christmas-like gift-a-palooza. I shopped for eight gifts for each kid, one big one and the rest more like stocking stuffers. But it didn’t end there. My husband’s family developed a tradition of having a big celebration with gifts for all. So now I was shopping for five nieces and nephews on his side and (to be equitable) five on my side. Those were the days of real shopping in stores like Toys-R-Us. It was exhausting. Plus, we had to find a time to drive to Detroit to see my family and deliver the goodies.

Thanksgiving 1987. Just part of the family in attendance pictured.

When my children were growing up, December started to feel more like a holidaze than a joyous holiday season. In addition to the gifts and meals, there were performances – so many performances. My daughters were figure skaters and every December the rink put on four shows of The Nutcracker, complete with costumes and many, many rehearsals. Then there were choir and orchestra concerts and school holiday parties. Add to that teachers’ gifts, the ongoing large family gathering for my husband’s family, and the holiday luncheon I hosted for my staff in the years I was director of the preschool, the Detroit visit to see my parents, brothers, and their families — and I limped into the new year tired and stressed out rather than feeling festive.

Hanukkah in Massacusetts

Now that I’m retired and the oldest generation, I should find the December holidays a time for peace and family and gratitude. And while I no longer host huge celebratory gatherings, I still find this a stressful time of year. For one thing, the gift-buying has accelerated rather than abated. I shared in my Retrospect story My Thing About Gifts that I have to come up with holiday gifts for eleven grandkids, ten great nieces and nephews, and one great-great niece. I keep a list on my desktop and thank Amazon Prime every day through the month of December. Believe me, I know all of these children are a blessing, and once I have figured out the gift thing for each of them, I may have a minute to reflect on how lucky I am.

The Indiana branch of my family.

On the other hand, this is a time of life in which my friends and I agree we are not in control anymore. I can no longer host 40 people for Thanksgiving or throw huge December parties for my grandkids, but I must confess that part of me wishes I could still do these things. Or in lieu of that, I secretly wish someone else would do these things just as I did them four decades ago. But families grow and spread out geographically. Now, my friends and I ask one another, “What are your plans for the holidays?” Often, the answer is that we will be getting together with just part of our family or with close friends or perhaps with no one at all. For people without kids or siblings nearby, all of the holiday hype can start to ring hollow as we age. Traditions from our childhoods or from raising our own children are long gone.

Traditional Jewish Christmas in Chinatown

I have to get real and get over the fact that things are different now. I have no control over the holidaze. The only thing I can control is how I respond to it. Even though my family is geographically spread out and far too big to gather together as we did in my youth and when my children were young, I resolve to feel less overwhelmed and nostalgic about things beyond my control. This year, I choose to be joyful.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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  1. Once again Laurie your love of family and your warm persona comes through!
    Happy holidays!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    It sounded really nice when all your family got together for the Jewish holiday, Laurie. Those were good times in my youth too. I commiserate with you about family being spread out. My children live in London and San Jose, CA, but they will both be here for this holiday (with one’s girlfriend coming from London the day after Christmas; that is a first), so I am very grateful for that. But we stopped gift-giving a long time ago.

    You do sound frazzled by all that you have to do at this time of year, but Amazon does sound like a blessing, and it is good that you choose to be zen about the whole thing.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, London and San Jose are much more challenging than Avon, IN and Newton, MA. Most of my family is still in the Detroit area so I can’t complain because I was the one who left. You must be so excited about all of you being together for the holiday. That’s a rare event for my kids and grandkids. Have a wonderful time!
      PS — You will have to tell me how you ditched the gifts. Actually, for my kids I make donations in their honor for birthdays and anniversaries. We made the holiday gift exchange a kids-only event some time ago. Little kids would much rather have a superhero transformer (that will break within a month) than a donation, but maybe soon I can teacher them to appreciate the latter.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        At a certain point, my off-spring (they are 34 and 30) just couldn’t tell us what they’d like. We’d be happy to provide birthday presents. They know that Hanukkah is just for little kids.

        Yes, very pleased that they will be here this year. They alternate being here for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Since David lives in London and doesn’t get off for that holiday, and flying at Thanksgiving is a zoo, maybe they’ll settle on Christmas every year.

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, you express a lot of same feelings that I have. Those bags of Chanukah gelt were the only “present” I remember getting on Chanukah, and of course those were necessary to gamble with when playing dreidel. (Also Thanksgiving with cranberry sauce from a can!) I love the picture of your family gathering circa 1948, it is so evocative of that time. Nowadays it sounds like you do an amazing job of juggling all the kids and gifts, and traveling to visit everyone. I hope you do have some time to be joyful!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Trying hard to feel more joyful than stressed these days. Hope you make it through this month of Christmas displays, TV Santa specials, and caroling. As an aside, one of my granddaughters has discovered she loves Jingle Bell Rock and sings it constantly (LOL).

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