Thursday, 10 December 2009

Gather Ye When Ye May

When I was little, our family tradition was to gather everyone at our house to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve. I suspect this was so that grandparents could watch me, the only grandchild for the first 8 years, open gifts. (It was a tough job, but you know...) Also, everyone seemed to enjoy Mom’s cooking and the occasion for a few spiked eggnog's.

Grandma and Grandpa would come over just after dark and take me along in the car for our annual drive. There was a neighbourhood near us, Lakehurst, where everyone on the estate decorated their house with Christmas lights. Street after street, not a single house missing, with often a colour or other theme going for a whole block. I’m sure it was in a contract if you bought in the area. The lines of cars idling up and down the streets and jamming traffic will have made their lives very complicated. I wonder if they still do this 40 -- well, OK 45 to 50 -- years later. Is this still the thing to do with today's environmental concerns? Even Blackpool, famous for its 'illuminations' has added a (single) solar powered display (The Green Machine) as a nod to this.

Anyhow, Santa always came to our house early in his Christmas Eve delivery rounds, when I was out with Grandma and Grandpa. Forget the Christmas morning thing, Mom and Dad didn’t really do mornings if they didn’t have to.

When my Uncle John married, the first of the 4 ‘kids’ to do so, he unknowingly started a war with his mother. The first battle was the Christmas he and his wife spent with her mother instead of his. Grandmother took his absence as a personal affront and let everyone know how hurt she was, which probably only served to make spending Christmas elsewhere that more attractive.

This was my first inkling of how Christmas could get really complicated, and that was just the usual thing about ‘his vs her’ family, nothing to do with steps or exes, etc. I was talking to a friend's wife the other evening and she was saying how she didn't enjoy last Christmas at her brother-in-law's house; she liked to be in her own home on Christmas Day. I wondered if her in-laws felt much the same, and if this was soon to be a bone of contention.

Another thing from my childhood Christmases was that Rita was sometimes absent from our celebration, being a nurse and one without husband or children, she usually volunteered to work over Christmas.

Fast forward to the 1990's. Bill’s children were in their teens by the time we got together and lived with their Mum, with whom they still spend Christmas Day. Bill, also being a nurse, has tended to work the Christmas holidays to ensure he has New Years Eve off. Though he is now a manager and could have both off, he tends to think it only fair for him to do his share. So we gather as a family on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day.

This seemed quite strange at first, Boxing Day not being a holiday I recognized at all. Over the years I’ve got used to it and enjoy the peace and solitude before the storm, as it were. Also, it’s another day to get everything ready. For me, the gathering of family is the most important part of the holidays and it is clear that to be able to enjoy this one has to remain flexible about the specifics.

When and where does your family gather for Christmas?


Rick Stone said...

For our immediate families it has worked out fine. Jo's family tradition was to get together Christmas Eve where the Stone Clan always did Christmas Day. Now we do Christmas Eve with Jo's mom, and any one else in her family that wants to come. We also include her mom in the Stone holiday gatherings now. My folks just feel she is part of the family.

When it comes to exes, in-laws, etc. it becomes a hassle. We try to get our two oldest grand daughters, and their mothers, over here on the Sunday evening before Christmas. Seeing the youngest one is hit or miss since the older twos mothers don't associate with the youngest mother or all three girls father. It can get complicated when trying to satisfy everyone.

As for Lakehurst, being a much older addition now, I don't think they still do the coordinated decorating anymore. Not nearly as many people decorate the outside of their houses anymore. (We quit several years ago when I saw how much damage I was doing crawling around on the roof.)

Anonymous said...

I got tired of Rick's ex deciding she wanted what ever holiday we were celebrating on, so I said the Sunday before Christmas was ours. After we had celebrated on that day a couple of years she decide that she wanted the boys that day. The boys stood up to her and came to our house. Now we continue with that day for the granddaughters and their mothers. My family has always gotten together on Christmas Eve. While Rick's family gets together on Christmas Day. Which will be at our house again this year. It is not bad because everyone brings something to add to the meal.

Struggler said...

You're right, this is enormously complicated and it does seem strange how people can get so offended but decade-long family feuds have been started by lesser things!
I've noticed, living here, that Thanksgiving takes the pressure off a bit - a couple can do one family gathering then and the other at Christmas.
I'm lucky, my Mom has never given me a hard time about (not) going home for Christmas. But I do still feel a bit guilty.

Shelley said...

Rick -- I love your excuse for not putting up lights...damage to the roof. Excellent invention ;->

I've never bothered with outside lights, but if anyone asks, I shall borrow your line!

Shelley said...

Struggler - Yes, some families are able to compromise that way. I think Thanksgiving for 20-40 does us in, though. We are so worn out it's hard to get ready for Christmas. We're re-thinking this...