If it wasn’t for family, the holidays probably would be a lot of fun.
You know what I mean: There are a lot of family hot-buttons certain to turn into flashpoints during the holidays.
There’s the “whose turn is it to visit whom” discussion that often requires intense mathematical equations and adroit calendar work through which to maneuver. This one can consume months of precious time prior to the holidays, ensuring that on the actual get-together date, the temperature is going to be hot no matter where you’re meeting.
Then there’s the “what do we do when we get there” conundrum, which involves various combinations of family members tackling varied aspects of the holiday experience and determining how much “me” time should be balanced against how much “family” time, with “family” time only counting if every single family member is locked arm-in-arm together in the same room, even knowing that much togetherness leads to all kinds of other issues as the day wears on.
And there’s the ever-present present quandary. Many holidays devolve into mutually assured destruction scenarios where we’re now obligated to exchange gifts with certain people simply because they’re going to exchange them with us, and a failure on the part of any one party could have disastrous consequences for the relationship between both parties.
“How much is enough” also can be a deadly game when it comes to family presents, particularly when you’re going to be part of a mass present-unveiling, giving you nowhere to hide if you’re the only one to cheap out because that’s what sis did to you last year.
Some of the present-giving decisions are obvious, some change from year to year (or maybe from email to email), but all are perilous — a present deemed “inappropriate” by others in the clan can stir ill will and quickly ruin a Rockwell-esque holiday scene in seconds, followed by years of acrimony and accusations.
Holidays always seem to boil down to a simple “suicide pact” mentality held by one key family member: If everyone in the family doesn’t show up to be included in the festivities, then it’s incumbent upon everyone else not to have a good time, no matter what.
And then there’s the corollary to that one: If everyone in the family does show up, how much of a good time will that really be once the first hour of the reunion has passed and people have moved beyond their best behavior and reverted to childhood personalities?
After all, if you get enough related people together in one room, particularly an undersized room with really nice furniture that won’t look good with soda or wine stains, there are bound to be conflicts, and if you can’t roll with whatever happens, there’s no chance you’re going to have a good time.
But in the end, this is all just typical family stuff, nothing to be ashamed of or worried about. In fact, it can be downright entertaining if you keep the right frame of mind.
Look at the alternative: You’re in a room by yourself, drinking spiked eggnog and watching one of those fake fireplaces on your computer.
True, there’s no one in the room, other than you, enthusiastically questioning your life choices out loud. But when you get down to it, that’s really what families and holidays are all about — we need people who know us well to keep us honest and humble and entertained, and that’s why we keep getting together year after year after year.
If we’re not all together, we’re all apart, and that’s no way to spend the holidays.