By Amy Brex
It’s coming. The season of holiday bliss and diss is coming. The Rockwell portrait ideal of family togetherness will taunt most of us in some way, because at our own gatherings, sadly, not everyone gets along.
I am a veteran of family (dys)functions: as a child of divorced parents, now a wife of a pilot (both scheduling nightmares), a former event designer/planner/coordinator, I have seen a lot:
The mother of the bride who refused to sit in the same row as her ex-husband, and made an obscene gesture at him.
The dinner guests who offered to bring a salad and show up with a head of lettuce and a tomato only to tell the hostess to “throw it together,” as if the hostess has nothing else to do and the contribution will somehow feed all 30 people.
The fundraiser guest who literally screamed because the coffee machine broke and had to wait 10 minutes for her brew. (I think we slipped her decaf after the tirade.)
A nearly seven-foot tall, foul-smelling, drunk, homeless man who walked into a church moments before the bride was to walk down the aisle…
Some people are really talented at (almost) ruining special occasions.
Then there’s the family stuff: The recent divorce. The divorce from 40 years ago. The unpaid debts among family members. The opinionated, the unfiltered, the angry, the hurt, the jealous, the drunk, and the unhelpful. And I, often the hostess, find myself prideful, perfectionistic, and more than a little nervous about which family fault line will snap this year. It kind of sounds like a really twisted version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, now that I read it back to myself.
So how can we prepare for and actually enjoy a season we call The Holidays? Here are a few thoughts I’ve gleaned through some hard-earned experiences:
- Don’t tie your celebrating to a date on the calendar.
One of the biggest issues in the holiday season (especially after a divorce or a new marriage) is fighting over chronological real estate. Just because it says “Thanksgiving” in a box under the word “Thursday” doesn’t mean you can’t eat your turkey on a different day. Thursday is hard. Travel is hard. Many people work on Wednesday and Friday. Our solution: Let each family have Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day to themselves, in their own homes, enjoying each other. We pick a Saturday or vacation day before or after the stated holiday when most of our family can make it, with less traffic and less pressure.
- Involve everyone in ways they can handle.
You don’t have to do everything. Make a list of the things that you can delegate and see who is willing and able to take on those tasks. If Grandpa’s idea of cooking is microwaving a frozen dinner, ask him to pick up dinner rolls or beverages. Give the home-made dessert request to someone who likes cooking. Thank them both! Give the kids crafts to do and ask the grandparents to help them. Get the teens to serve their elders. If someone looks bored, engage them in conversation or let them help you- it could be taking out the trash or drying dishes—just be sure to THANK THEM. Help them feel valued, not just used. Consider Luke 10:41, 1 Corinthians 12:22-25.
- Lower your expectations.
Regarding step #1, if you haven’t already crumpled up that Rockwell painting, do it now. Toss it. Real families aren’t like that. Step #2 (above) can be really difficult. Some folks may actually try to be unlovable. The truth is, they are hurting and you can’t fix it. Love them anyway, knowing that they have a purpose and God has a plan for them—regardless of how they treat you or behave otherwise. Your family gathering is supposed to be a celebration, not a performance. And some family members just may not show up—as much as that hurts, you’re probably better off giving them some space. See Philippians 4:11b-13.
- Notice and enjoy things going right:
Your niece’s giggle. Aunt Sue’s amazing potatoes. The fact that they all showed up, despite the risks. See Philippians 4:8.
There is still yet a more profound level of dread for many of us, some about to experience their first holiday without a loved one, facing loneliness, health problems, financial crisis—the list goes on. So here’s #5:
- Reach out to others.
I have been on both the giving and the receiving ends of this. As recently as this past Easter, our extended family hit a rough patch which resulted in the total cancellation of our traditional gathering, but we were invited to share in another family’s celebration. I am so grateful for that kindness. You have room for another seat or two. Fill those with someone who needs your love. Your gathering will be enhanced and you will lift another’s spirit. See Matthew 25:37-40.
A final note—It doesn’t matter how good the turkey is or how creatively you fold the napkins. The weather, the decor, how clean the house is or isn’t will all be forgotten. What will last with any event over the holidays is how your guests feel while they are there. You don’t actually control anyone’s feelings, but you can give them a reason to feel loved, included, and valued, as Christ does for us.
Be His hands and feet.