It’s not all joyful cheer. For some of us, the holidays are an emotional suck.
I had lunch with my dad and sister yesterday.
It was going better than expected until they started discussing Christmas and gift ideas for my niece & nephew. I just gazed out the window and kept shoveling food into my mouth, hoping to avoid being dragged into the conversation.
“So, do you have your gift yet?” my dad eventually asked me. His first direct question to me all afternoon.
Every year on Christmas Eve, my father's side of the family gathers at my grandparents' house. My grandmother cooks chicken & noodles, just like her mother used to make, and we gather and eat and drink wine and then have a White Elephant type gift exchange.
It all sounds lovely and festive and very Americana-Hygge, doesn’t it?
Over the years, the number of us has dwindled. My uncle stopped coming shortly after it was discovered he had an entire second family, and the wife we knew lost her mind. My grandfather passed a few years ago, and others are gone to divorce. Cousins have their own families and traditions to build. My father and his sister hate each other and spend the entire evening on opposite ends of the house, making snarky comments to whoever dares cross over from the other side. My sister inevitably shows up late, my father inevitably says something shitty, and I end up refilling her wine glass behind her husband's back.
I munch edibles during the entire hour-long drive there because my anxiety is next level without them. Twice in the last 3 years, my father, who hands out cards with money in them, has forgotten mine. One year, I tried to say something, not because I needed or wanted the money, but because I wanted to make sure he knew he had misplaced a $100 bill. He huffed at me like I was being greedy and then proceeded to pull out his money clip and give me the $86 in cash he had on him.
Gee, thanks, Dad.
It’s forced and awkward, and nobody wants to be there other than my sweet, 90-year-old grandma.
Every year, my wife says we don’t have to go. Every year I say I’m not going to put myself through that again.