November 1st-the holiday season begins. . . the most bittersweet time of year. I absolutely love it all, and yet I have no reason to, according to most. I usually spend it alone, if not working for someone with a family, with my cat, the ultimate spinster iconic image, eating take out, watching Hallmark, and alternating between smiling and crying like an idiot. Going back and forth between memories and hopes, pictures and movies, past and future, reality and wishes. I sit, paralytic, in a state of battling despair and bliss. Not because anything catastrophic ever happened during the holiday season to me or my family. My great-grandmother did die on Thanksgiving, but I was one, so it hasn't impacted me much. More so because when you love the holiday season as much as I do, spending it alone with memories of better days, is one of the hardest things a person can manage to make it through.
Recently, a friend expressed some aggravation to me about spending a holiday with ALL of the family. It's just all too much, too many, too loud, etc. I kept my hurt inside. There's no reason to make someone feel bad over something they have no control of. I haven't had a traditional "family meal" in over ten years, and by most of your standards, more like twenty. But it's never gotten the best of me. I still sit, whether its Buddy the Elf, or Jenny McCarthy pretending to be the daughter of Santa Claus, and I enjoy the beauty and love of the season that surrounds me; even if it isn't directed toward me, I relish in the notion of what others are receiving.
When I was a child, family came together so often, at least every Sunday, for a dinner, that it seemed as though that's how family's interacted. Sometimes there were members from hundreds of miles away. It was noisy, full of hugging, story telling, second and third plates, laughter. 8mm slides and photo albums, and always plans for next time. And this was just our Sunday dinners. Our holidays were comparable, drawn out over many more hours though, with games, more kids, and no expectation of it ending anytime in the near future. As a kid, you couldn't have asked for anything more. Sure, sometimes when the slides went on a little long, or the stories were about things you didn't understand, it might get a little boring, but me, I always tried to hang with the adults, even if I was at a complete loss.
I remember specifically, one very special year, my grandma's cousin (at the time, somewhere in his 70s) visited for the first time, well since I had been born anyway. He had worked for the government and was rarely around. His breeding had taken off in his day and the sizable mass he had embarked upon this earth kept him away, into the midst of his own line of kin, most of the time. But he was fascinating. I tried so hard to keep up!! I had heard, in my eavesdropping attempts as a tot, many wildly ambitious stories about that side of the family and knew this would be a treat. He had written two books, written a message to my grandmother in both of them, signed them, and sent them to her. I had never read them (they were about his years spent living in Africa while he worked for the government) but always saw them sitting around the house like beacons of light and considered him our family's very own star!
His work for the government lasted decades. Many years ago, he and his wife had a child who had passed away young. She is buried in Arlington cemetery. My distant cousin was considered an honorable man. This had occurred somewhere around the time he was working in the White House under JFK. To even put this story in print seems outlandish to even me, though I heard it all with my own ears. There wasn't much he would ever divulge about his time there, as he said he couldn't, legally, but he did tell us of the time he met Marilyn Monroe, the first time, and helped to sneak her up a secret stairwell in the White House to visit with the president. He confirmed nothing; only those details. It was the FIRST time he met her, and they snuck her in to visit JFK. I felt like I was in on a national secret! He went on to speak more of his time in Africa, not about his work, but about the geography, the landscape, the people, the life he led. I was enthralled. I think I blacked out in an imaginary world at some point because I remember very little after that.
I wrote to him once in my adulthood. He sent a picture of his massive family and wrote a very kind, long letter in return. I always felt my family was very kind. They were story tellers, always getting at someone, or reminiscing til the sun went down. I suppose, now that I write that, that maybe I do get it honest. There are pictures of us renting out the banquet room at the Holiday Inn, people dressed to the nines and smiling so authentically. It was magical. At least, I thought.
Holidays went on much the same for a little while. Though we had no rockstar present on a regular basis, we did have tradition. We always had a "starter party" at home with the 4-6 of us, then moved it to one of the grandparents houses, because kids need to be with their grandparents on the holidays. . . especially Christmas! Christmas Eve, I believe was always the most magical. My uncle was a police officer, my grandma was a big kid, and I was the ultimate spectator. If you are a local, you know that the Green family always put together a Christmas sleigh which accepted toy donations for the needier families in the area and the police department helped them pass them out on Christmas Eve because it was always such a huge undertaking. My uncle was usually one of the Santas who went in a side car off route to cover some of the overflow. My grandma was one of the ones hanging out of her front door to watch the sleigh come through her neighborhood and throw out candy as though it were the Macy's parade. She adored Santa Claus more than a six year old at the mall for the first time. It was her favorite day of the year. Plus she was always more than proud of my uncle for the things he did. She wanted to be supportive. (Though she claims to still believe in the big man). Who knows. But we always had Kennedy's donuts and Domino's pizza on hand for the night, waiting for the sleigh, watching Rudolph, the Grinch, and Frosty, opening one present, and trying, unsuccessfully to sleep, while granny basted a turkey all through the night. The smell didn't help us get to sleep at all! Just Magical. What is better than junk food, pizza, toys, cartoons, grandparents, giving to the needy and staying up all night as a kid! Umm, nothing.
As a child, everything is loving and easy and uncomplicated. Because children are filled with love, and live a simple life. As an adult, truths are no longer hidden from you, and people begin to be more than honest, because adults are full of disappointment and live a dramatically overwrought life. Once I was a teenager, our family dinners were holidays only, sometimes birthdays, and sat approximately 5-10 people. Total. It was quieter, shorter, and a lot less enjoyable. By the time I became an adult, there were five of us left, the only ones who regularly spoke, and we sat most of the day in silence, or, if someone was feeling particularly joyous, listening to many of the same stories we already knew. It always kind of broke my heart a little. But I was happy to have what I had.
Ten years ago, I began spending holidays with my ex-husband's family. It was big and loud and full of second and third plates as well. Reminded me much of my own. A little more snobbish, but still. It was family that wanted to be together even if I wasn't included as anything more than a bystander. (In-laws). That went on for the next five years. Then we move on to my most recent ex's family. Much more like my own, except often more alcohol involved. Oh well. That lasted me three years. I still had a family; they had their own traditions. I was happy to be part of them.
For three years now, I have "celebrated" the holidays alone. One year in college I had to; I was stuck without a ride home after I totaled my car, but the intentions were all still there. Five years ago the family that I did have moved to Florida and we haven't spoken since. The reasons for which I will not embark upon now. Holidays aren't supposed to be complicated. Most of the holidays though, I have worked, willingly, because I know it's important to be with your family. I enjoy giving that ability to others who work in places who don't respect the concept. But even alone, nothing has changed for me.
I still watch Elf, Rudolph, The Grinch, and every tacky Hallmark movie I can because there is nothing better than the feeling of holiday love. Nothing. I still gorge myself on second and third plates and reminisce on the good times, repeating stories and memories in my head. I have my own traditions I suppose. Yesterday I saw Christmas lights on someone's house. I smiled. Embrace the season whoever you are! Don't let the neigh-sayers get you down!
But in my house, there are no Christmas decorations or cards in my mailbox. There are no presents under my non-existent tree. There are no long distance phone calls wishing anyone a happy holiday. There are no leftovers, carols, donuts or sleighs. My holidays exist only in the spirit that I bring.
It's not always utterly void of any human emotion, however. My mother, god bless her, teaches me so much about myself. The need to be alone sometimes, I get it honest. Her kids are full-fledged adults, she shouldn't have to cater to anyone. And I don't expect it at all. Sometimes she provides the food. She always provides the support and love. I respect her notions. I have no complaints. It isn't the idea of being around someone or having something to do on the holidays. It's knowing that it was once meaningful and picture perfect, and choices had been made to change that. The possibility is there, yet no one makes a move.
I have a pretty sizable family too. My mom's side is set with unlimited numbers of cousins. My dad is one of twelve kids, all of whom have 3+ of their own. How is it possible that I sit, each year, without my family, without tradition, without stories, without any love at all?
People make choices in their life that often impact more than they're willing to think of. Forgiveness isn't in the vocabulary of so many, let alone within their abilities. My family turned out to be full of disregard, hostility, and devious ways I wasn't prepared for. I have forgiven them all. I had to. I was becoming one of them. Looking back, I see the patterns of cutting people out after an argument, walking into rooms where people were fighting, and whispers around the corner. I hate that my memories became tainted. I'll always long for the days of disbelief.
In this life, there are so few people who are willing to stand up beside you regardless of what you do and declare, I love this person no matter what. Most of the time, when there is, those people are part of your family; their blood courses through your veins and they have had a say in the person you have turned out to be. Those people are to be cherished every day of your life; you can't fake love like that.
If I could tell you one thing, and have you listen to me, it is, accept their love every chance you get. You'll never be able to manufacture it from someone who doesn't belong to you. I can't create a picture vivid or stark enough to walk you down my path. But I assure you, you don't want to feel it for a day in your entire life. Christmas spent alone, speaking to no one, is potentially the most desolate, hurtful thing a person can feel. You wouldn't think, but to know that during the one day each year when people are practically required to be together, that there is no one who chooses to be with you, not even your bloodline, it can empty your soul.
So you will never hear me complain about early Christmas lights, or even ones left up after the new year. You will never hear me moan about too much to eat at the holidays, (though that's most days), too many Christmas ads, traffic from parades or the absurd amount of people in the stores. I will never bark back at anyone who says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays; any sentiment is acceptable to me. I will never turn down the offer to work for someone who has a family to reach out to, or refuse to proudly display any card I receive, even if it is on my door alone. I will never walk away from the ability to volunteer or turn away someone in need of holiday cheer. I am that person, full of it to give. And while we complain that it is too commercial and superficial around the holiday's, I accept that; it is our attempt at being together, and those intentions are what counts most. It is what we have been taught; it is all we know.
This post is not an attempt at a pity party or any motive comparable. It is a request, to love your family, accept what you have, and love that you have it. Everyone has people in their family that they can't stand, wish would not be so obnoxious, feels as though they have to give advice to, or is too negative to be around. So what. Accept them. You may be the only one who does. All I am asking is that this year, this holiday season, every time you feel a little disdain, you feel a little uncomfortable, you feel a little indignant about being around so much chaos, think of those who wish they had your problem. Think of those sitting alone with their cat, happy as can be to have memories to hold onto, when no new ones are to be made. For once, love the ones you are with. One day, you will be, without.