A few weeks ago the CBS drama, “Madame Secretary”, served up a scene in which Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord was arguing with her brother. Words were flying and getting more heated when Elizabeth’s husband intervened, “C’mon you two, save it for the holidays.” My husband and I laughed out loud. TV fantasy meets holiday reality. It seems inevitable. At sometime during the holidays someone is going to “get into it” with someone else about something: politics, the media, Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas, immigration, refugees, climate change…the list goes on.
The holidays bring joy, love anticipation, and stress. Despite our best efforts we try to create a Normal Rockwell/Martha Stewart holiday without letting any of our day-to-day responsibilities go. Seriously? No wonder we are exhausted at the end of the year.
Some years ago I read a wonderful book called Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. This book provides terrific ideas/resources/perspectives for rethinking the holidays. Now before a brouhaha begins about messing with Christmas (y’know Starbucks, I never even noticed the snowflakes on your red cups in years gone by), their premise is to simply take a look at your own traditions. Are there some that no longer apply? Are there some about which no one remembers why they’re done in the first place? Is there something that might be more meaningful than what you do now?
In a few days time the holidays will begin. Why not try something different this year? If you Christmas/Hanukkah with the same folks you celebrate Thanksgiving with, ask a few simple questions as you gather around the table. The following questions are paraphrased from the Robinson Coppock Staeheli book:
- If they had to start from scratch creating December holiday activities and traditions, how would they do it?
- Which of our holiday traditions are most meaningful to you?
- If you could change something, what would you like to see done differently?
This may start up some real conversations. Don’t judge. Don’t argue. Simply gather information. If possible, write down what people say. Develop a list of core activities and traditions. Divide up the tasks to making this wish list come true. Remember, changing traditions is hard. Some things may have to wait. See if you can come to consensus on one change for this year. ASK EVERYONE that celebrates with you. You may be surprised what matters to 5-year-old Samantha and 101-year-old Nana.
When the last of my nieces and nephews got married, my family knew that getting everyone together for Christmas was going to be impossible. That was when Carol, my niece-in-law suggested “Thankmas”. Now it is our family tradition and our family never has those “but-you-spent-last-Christmas-with…” hard conversations. What’s Thankmas? A weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas on which we all gather, have gifts, the big dinner, go to church together, and have other activities as if it were Christmas. It’s a weekend because we are spread out all over the place. A day only not worth the airfare. A weekend? Oh yes!
Thanksgiving is a perfect time to survey the family. But do it at dinner (or during pre-dinner snacking), before groups break up into the conversationalists and the football-watchers. Don’t “save it for the holidays” when stress can run high and everyone has had too much sugar.