“What was your favorite part of Christmas?”
“Really? Why did you say family?”
(deep breath and pause) “I don’t know. I just get to see lots of people.”
Well, there you have it. FAMILY. This was the conversation between my six-year-old niece and me on December 27th. Like me, she had celebrated Christmas with various family members on different days. Although, I had planned to write about holiday traditions, specifically Christmas, this added a new perspective and change of focus.
“I just get to see lots of people,” says the six-year-old who received a new bike for Christmas. It’s fair to say that not everyone has 3-4 family gatherings like we had, but I have found that almost every person (who celebrates Christmas) has at least one, whether it’s family only, family and friends, or only “framily” (friends who become your chosen family).
In my case, I spend mine with immediate and extended family. Getting the extended family together can be a challenge. The attendees have changed over the years, considering that people move, people die, some families grow, while others break apart. Although my father’s side of the family has stopped getting together, my mother’s side still does. And then there is my immediate family consisting of my parents, sisters, and their families. Add my husband’s two family gatherings, and yes, we celebrate four times, well, five, if you count Christmas morning with my husband and son. Since I like our families, holidays are enjoyable to me. Each gathering is special and brings different traditions.
Who did you celebrate Christmas with this year? Did you endure it or enjoy it? Are there people who you missed seeing this year? Are you hoping to spend Christmas with the same people next year? Are you hoping to make different plans next year?
Too many people take holiday photo opportunities for granted. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about taking tons of selfies as everyone else spends time together eating, talking, and laughing. People are not permanent. Try interacting with others and enjoy the company in front of you, not just with your social media followers (I realize that this last statement does not apply to everyone).
Photos of other people are important too. Ask anyone who has lost someone special to them. Those holiday photos are priceless. Whether someone posed, or it was a random photo of them dancing, sitting at a table, or standing with a group, it was cherished. It showed a time of togetherness that often brings smiles to our hearts. Capture the moments that will bring fond memories later.
My mom gave me the photo gene. Not in the professional sense, but the passion (or annoyance to some) of taking a lot of pictures. Usually, I chronicle each Christmas gathering and share them afterwards on social media or photo storage sites. The intention of posting on social media is not so much about MY Christmas blessings, but for other family members to view and enjoy. As the years pass, my number one goal is take a photo of every person in attendance. My number two goal is to get multiple generations together in one photo, from grandparents to parents to children. Ultimately, it will show future generations their roots, and in some instances holiday traditions. As somber as it may sound, we cannot guarantee that everyone will be “around” next year to take that family photo.
Did you delete group photos because YOU didn’t look “good” in them, not everyone was looking at the camera, someone didn’t smile, or there was a photobomb? If so, don’t do that! Years later, you may appreciate that photo.
Did you take any photos this year? If not, did you arrange to get someone else’s photos from the day? Did you remember to include yourself in any photos? Do you find yourself smiling as you relive Christmas memories through old pictures?
Every family has a tradition, whether they realize it or not. Food and gift exchanges seem to be the most popular. Tamale-making is a tradition of which I have not been a part, but I know many people who are. Even though I don’t make them, there is great place nearby from where I buy them. They are always on the menu for at least one of our family gatherings.
Cuisines are often determined by culture. Until I met my husband, I had not tried gumbo; now, I look forward to it every holiday since that is their tradition. Meat main dishes, such as ham, turkey, and brisket, as well as warm vegetable side dishes often make the list of familiar foods at any family gathering. Menudo and posole are familiar foods that I never turn down when they are on the menu. Most of the time, these are usually reserved for New Year’s Day though.
Food is not always about what’s on the plate. Traditions, as to how it is served and who contributes vary from family to family. Nowhere is it more evident, than when you are invited to someone else’s Christmas gathering for the first time. You may unknowingly judge the setting as too formal or too informal, the food as too bland or too spicy, and the food choices as too healthy, too fattening, or too unfamiliar to try. There are potlucks, buffet-style serving, and formal sit-down meals. There are china dishes, paper plates, wine glasses, and “Red Solo” cups. In the end, you may find something that you like, and want to carry over into your own family tradition.
Do you have a family food tradition? Is there a food item that you look forward to? How are your Christmas meals prepared and served? Are you asked to bring the same food item each year? Do you remember the first time that you attended a Christmas gathering outside of your family?
Gift exchanges among family members often change over the years. These changes may be the result of age, financial situation, or relationship status. Some familiar exchanges involve the concept of picking names, aka Secret Santa. This means that you have one gift to purchase. Large families find this useful since buying gifts for every family member can often put someone into deep debt each year. As children, we used to pick names with our cousins. Now, our families buy gifts for each child under age 18. Then after 18, they can participate in the adult gift exchange.
The adult gift exchange, also referred to as “White Elephant” seems to be the most popular at family gatherings. The positive side is that this solved the problem of adults picking names in a family, or additional guests feeling left out. As a child, I remember hearing an adult conversation about how someone was not “allowed” to participate because he/she was not married to the family member. In today’s age of living together and unwed pregnancies, this type of conversation seems archaic. Now, any person who comes to our family gathering can participate by bringing a wrapped gift, valued at the specified amount. The negative side is that the usefulness or value of the gift that a person receives may not fit their expectations.
Keep in mind that each person has a choice whether to bring a gift and participate. It is not a perfect gift-giving solution for all, but remember, it’s the thought that counts. The gift-stealing antics alone often provide enough laughter that lifts everyone’s spirits. Who doesn’t need a good laugh, now and then?
Is gift-giving an important tradition to you? Do you buy gifts for everyone or pick names? Do you have a similar “White Elephant” gift exchange? What traditions do you wish were still in place? Which traditions have you started or changed over the years?
The specific day that a family celebrates is often the most important tradition. For as long as I can remember, I have spent Christmas Eve with my maternal grandparents (just Grandma now), aunts, uncles, and cousins. It is usually at 5:00 p.m. There are no surprises. This side of the family expects to celebrate Christmas, in the evening, on December 24th. Christmas Day was always reserved for the paternal side of the family. As a child, I loved both days because I had plenty of cousins my age for which to play. We would only stop playing long enough to eat and open gifts. Otherwise, we left our parents alone to mingle.
As we all grew up, got married and/or had our own families, we found that time and distance played a factor in attending the annual Christmas gathering. Time was either split with our “old and new” families, or one family gathering was chosen over another. People moved out of state, or hours away, which made it unlikely that they would attend. Most of them chose to create new traditions (especially those with children) that didn’t involve traveling and waking up in another person’s home on Christmas morning.
Families grow with births and relationships, and then change again with deaths and breakups. Births most often add a renewed excitement. New relationships add a type of comfort of bringing someone you care about into your family traditions. It may also add a new kind of stress to couples, if their family’s traditional DAY to celebrate is the same. Some families stop meeting after the death of the patriarch or matriarch. Relationship breakups may have children splitting holidays with each parent. In our immediate family, we have changed our celebration day, based on some of the reasons listed.
As my six-year-old niece reminded me, the best part of Christmas is that we “get to see lots of people.”
Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated by many. Each family focus will be different because we are indeed different; that is also what makes us unique. The key is to enjoy your family gathering, no matter which day it is celebrated. Stop stressing about who did or did not attend, who has or has not attended, and who is to “blame” for the lack of attendance. Leave the judgment at the door.
People and traditions change over the years. Christmas may be a year away, but start small by thinking about the next family holiday. How can you make it enjoyable? With whom do you want to spend it? With whom do you wish that you could still spend it? Why? What do you want future generations to remember about your part in the gathering or traditions?
Reflecting on how I celebrate Christmas has also challenged me to open my mind and heart to be more grateful about the family time. My hope is that you were able to gain a new perspective about your family, traditions, and the holiday season. Enjoy or endure? The choice is up to you.
“Families are held together by choice. Members are alike and unalike, yet there is comfort in the sameness and excitement in the differences. When we respect and relish both conditions, we can call ourselves FAMILY.” ~Maya Angelou