A different kind of Christmas

I've just had the first Christmas where I didn't see a single member of my family. I'm interstate from the rest of my family and I opted to stay put this year (which caused its own hassles, but that's a story for another day). Generally in my family we all get together at my parents' house for lunch. This is fairly unusual in itself - I'm one of five kids and my siblings all have partners and children and/or stepchildren, yet the Christmas Day celebration is still centred around our birth family, not their own families. Of course they still have their own celebrations but the main shindig is the one where we all get together. Let me put this in perspective - my siblings are aged 50, 48, 44 and 30 (and I'm 38) and between them they have 8 kids/stepkids aged from 25ish to nearly 4, plus 3 (step)grandkids... yet up to this point no one has said, "Hey, we're a pretty big family in our own right - we want to have our own Christmas lunch this year. Maybe the rest of us should get together on another day." I find it kind of astonishing, really. If this continues it's entirely possible that my nephews will grow up and leave home never knowing what it was like to have Christmas lunch in their own home.

So this is what I was up against when I said, "Uhhh... guess what? I'm going to stay here in Melbourne this year for Christmas." My younger sister jokingly told me that I've RUINED CHRISTMAS... but then told me they've been wanting to have Christmas in the Philippines one year, with her partner's family, and she thinks I might have paved the way. Hey, that makes me a trailblazer!

My parents' real concern was that I would be spending Christmas alone - they just didn't get the fact that being part of a church means I would only be alone on Christmas Day if I went out of my way to be so. As soon as people heard I wasn't going back to Sydney I had about 12 invitations... and even if I hadn't had invitations from people I know, my church works very hard to identify people who'll be alone and to hook them up with families who can fit another person or two around their table at Christmas.

I haven't chatted with my family yet to find out what Christmas was like from their end. For me, it was incredibly relaxing. I suspect for many families, Christmas celebrations bring with them an undercurrent of tension. You're bringing together a group of people who have a long history together of the good, the bad and the very very ugly; and for many families, like mine, it's the only day of the year when you're all together in the same room. I keep in pretty close contact with my sisters but I only see my brothers on Christmas Day or if someone dies and we happen to be at the same funeral. This, of course, means that I also barely know my sisters-in-law. Christmas lunch tends to be awkward and slightly tense. My mother gets very stressed about the food preparation, my sisters spend a lot of time chasing after their kids and trying to stop them being maimed in drunken backyard cricket games, my step-nieces and step-nephews clearly hate being there because they haven't grown up with my family so we're virtual strangers to them, my brothers don't lift a finger to help with anything and invariably become drunk and very obnoxious, and my dad tries to keep everyone happy but usually ends up getting in trouble from my mother for... I don't know, breathing the wrong way.

Of course, there are great things too. We have a long-running contest about the Christmas crackers - we take turns buying them and there's always good natured rivalry about the quality of the gift inside the cracker, as well as the corniness of the joke. ("How do you get down from an elephant? You don't - you get down from a duck." Ar ar ar.) There is the tradition of walking down the road at night to look at the house with the truly horrendous, tacky Christmas lights all over their house and lawn. There is the unspoken agreement that at some point during the meal someone will hand my mother a paper napkin and say, "How did you make those elf shoes again?" (One year she folded the napkins into the shape of an elf shoe. They were very cute but by the following year she'd forgotten how to do it, and every year she tries and fails. It's fun to watch... yes, we're cruel!) There are lots of fun things and I was sad to miss them this year... but underneath all that I was relieved to enjoy a Christmas Day lunch with people I love, and to spend several hours there without anyone fighting, getting tense, getting stressed, getting drunk. I didn't even know Christmas could be like that. I'm not saying it was a Hallmark Christmas, but it was still pretty good and I came home feeling sated, relaxed and loved. It was a good day.


Hippomanic Jen said...

I'm glad you had a good Christmas. Sometimes I realise that my family are truly blessed to have a good time when we get together (It sounds like being raised teetotal may assist with that!).

I'm so proud of you trailblazing for your sister!

Dee from Downunder said...

Sounds like your family christmas getogether is fraught with nightmares.

I know a few people who always have christmas with the "whole extended family"

But we grew up celebrating it with just our small immediate family, and thats all I knew.

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