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