When you have so many family members in far-flung and not-so-far-flung places, how do you divide your time at the holidays so that everyone is happy?
Or watch other videos at youtube.com/DrLaura.
Normally on my radio program, we try to vary the subject matter of the calls I take so that each hour has a wide range of issues, philosophies, ideas, information, insight and dilemmas. However, during the holiday season, this becomes almost impossible. It seems that family dynamics (especially the negative ones) just take over people’s lives. This includes everything from having to buy gifts for (or people (or deal with family members) you don’t like, having to go to dinner and parties you don’t really want to go to, to having to travel to four different sets of divorced parents’ houses and have to deal with their new spouses. And on and on and on….
One of the main problems causing you stress at this time is your unwillingness to accept what “is,” and just hum your way through some unpleasant moments and unpleasant people, and your unwillingness to accept responsibility for making choices that will annoy some others, but will save yourself.
1. If you have four divorced parents or four sets of in-laws, just have the dinner at YOUR house. Invite everyone, and let them sort themselves out.
2. If you’re at a family gathering with one or two bad apples, just steer yourself toward the people you do like and immerse yourself in pleasant conversation, virtually ignoring the troublemakers after a cordial “hello.” If the troublemakers start arguments or get drunk or unruly, excuse yourself and leave. Do what it takes to keep your blood pressure down and enjoy the holiday time.
3. If relatives are visiting, put them up at a local inn. They and you will then have the necessary privacy to keep tensions to a minimum. Pay for the hotel yourself. It’s a small price to pay for serenity.
4. If you’re invited out of town, and you don’t really want to go, don’t travel. Start new traditions in your own home.
As for accepting what “is,” if there are some situations and people you’d rather avoid, but this would bring pain to others who would miss you terribly, go with good humor, become the life of the party, enjoy what there is to appreciate, and know that in your heart, you did a good deed and the right thing.
My husband and I were very disappointed when we learned that we could not be with our military son on Thanksgiving. We casually mentioned to some friends that we were just going to have scrambled eggs and bagels for Thanksgiving dinner, because without him there, it just wasn’t going to be worth the effort. Well, they kindly invited us to spend Thanksgiving with their family, and we accepted.
I wanted to do something nice for them to really show them thanks for such a lovely gesture, so I knitted a seven-foot runner for their table. When it was finished, it seemed so “plain,” that I spent four hours crocheting around the entire runner twice and added a fringe to the ends. When I gave it to her, she held it close to her chest near her heart, and her eyes teared up as she expressed her emotion for my putting in that amount of effort for her. I have to tell you that I’ve never felt so moved by a reaction to a gift in my life.
She and her husband were doing something “personal” for me, and I wanted to return the favor. Having Thanksgiving with their adult children and a couple who were mutual friends made for a fabulous evening, with lots of laughs and a yummy turkey….mmmm.
So, I’ve stopped buying bottles of wine and chocolate-filled baskets. I’ve been working around the clock for weeks either knitting, weaving, or sewing Christmas presents. I finished my last project for my “peeps” on Sunday (our office holiday party was on Tuesday), so I had a bit of a crunch for time. While it was exhausting and sometimes frustrating when equipment has a mind of its own, I feel giddy about giving gifts that are so much of myself. Clearly, it means more to the receiver AND the giver.
To top it off, a few of my dearest friends sent me “Thanksgiving” e-mails, enumerating the reasons they felt grateful for having me in their lives. It blew my mind. It is incredibly touching to know that you matter to someone.
I’m writing these stories to urge you all to do the same this Christmas. Don’t buy a card – write to that person and let them know why they matter to you and what you appreciate about them and how you feel grateful for them. Instead of purchasing something generally useless that they might never use and will not cause them to reflect on your relationship, make something or do something. For example: plant some flowers on either side of their front door; make a rocking chair for the back porch; fix something on their property; take their kids for the night so they can have a romantic time to themselves….the list of possibilities is endless.
Make it personal, and that doesn’t require ridiculous expenditures for gifts that ultimately don’t matter.
Oh, and one more thing. We will see our kidlet for Christmas. The tree is already up.
Just for fun, I asked members of my staff to tell me some the holiday traditions in their families. I’ve included my own in this list as well. As you can see, my “peeps” focused primarily on food (!), and there are ethnic traditions seem to have been handed down over many years:
Here’s mine: Our son is 23 years old, but we still do the “Oh….what is that sound?” (Then we make the sound of hooves). “What can that be? It must be….no, it can’t be…it must be Santa Claus!” And this is when we give our last gifts.
From Kimberly Neill:
Opening one present on Christmas Eve, which is always Christmas “jammies” to wear that night!
From Benjamin Pratt:
Listening to Johnny Mathis’ “Merry Christmas” and Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.”
And from the rest of the Dr. Laura staff:
* Reading out loud “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve
* On Christmas Eve, my daughter and I bake Snickerdoodles and leave a few with a glass of mild for Santa and his elves. Santa always takes a big sip of milk, and a bit of cookie, which we discover when we wake up in the morning. After Christmas dinner, we sit around the piano, open up our stockings (which my mom sewed back in the 1950s, when my brother, sister, and I were born) and sing Christmas carols.
* My family and I eat nothing but conch soup on both Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I’m not allowed to spend any money on the first of January, or supposedly it will result in a loss of money for the year.
* Every year, we prepare a nice big meal, get all dressed up, and we wait until Midnight to open our gifts. Sometimes, though, we start at 11:59PM!
* I’ve always loved English Christmas traditions. As a teenager, I found a recipe for classic English Christmas pudding, and ever since, I’ve made the pudding and the hard sauce (and it takes 6 to 8 hours to make it), and it’s always one of the desserts on the table at our Christmas dinner, which is a little unusual, since I come from an Italian family!
* Our Italian family continues the tradition of the Christmas Eve fish dinner that’s served over several courses and involves seven fishes. Supposedly, it signifies the seven sacraments in Catholicism. We start out with Frutte di Mare (with shrimp, scungilli, calamari and king crab legs), then move on to the pasta course (linguine with white clam sauce and mussels in red sauce), and continue to the course featuring baked lobster tails. We end the meal with coffee and Italian pastries.
* In Norway, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December, so my family and I go to the Norwegian church to hear the Christmas sermon that morning. Later in the evening, after dinner, it’s a tradition in our family to eat Norwegian rice pudding with berry sauce. In the pudding, there is one almond mixed in. Whoever finds the almond in their serving of pudding wins a gift. Growing up the almond “mysteriously” always ended up in my bowl, but now that I’m an adult, it’s fair game for anyone who is over at the house, sharing in the tradition.
I hope that you and your family either continue long passed-down traditions, or start new ones. Happy holidays!