Making Memories at the Holidays

The holidays can be a difficult time for many people.  For some, spending time with family is stressful.  There is pressure to be together and be happy.

For others, making Christmas lists and spending money and buying the perfect gifts are obsessions.

I think we set ourselves up for failure by trying to live up to the ideals of what constitutes a perfect holiday.  It is seldom that which is portrayed in Norman Rockwell photos or in the movies or even in our imaginations.

I am a child of divorce.  Prior to the divorce, my mother tried to make the holidays special for her eight children.  She grew up in a time when they had very little, and I think she wanted things differently for her children.  My father also grew up during The Great Depression.  His approach to the holidays was somewhat different.  He felt that since he survived with very little then so could his children.

This set up a battleground for them at the holidays.  She wanted to make sure we had toys and new things, and he didn’t want to waste the money.  So, from an early age, I remember the holidays being a time of tension and fighting, and I felt responsible for it.

Christmas 1960.

After the divorce, we were shuttled between the two of them.  When we were with my father, he would sit in his recliner and expect us older kids to take care of things.  He didn’t keep track of birthdays or concern himself with giving gifts.  When we were with my mother, she would often be working so many hours that she spent much of her time off in bed.  Holidays became a time to pretend to be happy.  A time to go through the motions.  The holidays were hollow of meaning.

Dear sweet hubby, on the other hand, has wondrously happy memories of the holidays.  There were strong traditions of going to Grandma’s and leaving cookies and milk out for Santa and going to church and spending time having fun together.

So, once we got married and started having children, our holiday experiences merged in an interesting way.  I was often melancholy at the holidays as the sights and sounds of them stirred up painful memories.  DSH is downright jolly at the holidays.  He really gets into the holiday spirit.

We reconciled these two disparate approaches to the holidays into new traditions for our family.  They have evolved over the years, but they include some of the best parts of both of our backgrounds.

Our Christmas mantle.

What we have realized is that it is not about the food.  It is not about the gifts.  It is not about the tree or the decorations or the music.  It is about taking all of these things and using them to make good and happy memories of the holidays for our children.  These things are just the components that we use to make the time together special.

So, if the turkey is too dry, the holiday is not ruined.  If we don’t get the perfect gift, the holiday is not ruined.  If the tree falls over (again and again and again), the holiday is not ruined.

What makes the holidays special are the memories that are created of spending time together.  Time together that is fun and happy.  Even if the games get a little competitive.  Even if someone says something they shouldn’t have said.

Finally, after all of these years, I no longer have the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as the holidays approach.  We have created a new set of family traditions that have overtaken the old ones both in what we physically do at the holidays, but also in how I feel at the holidays.

Thanksgiving 2011 – working on the Christmas card photo.

This year, as we approach the time in our lives when our children are going off and creating their own, new family traditions, I am not sad that the traditions are changing.  I am happy that we created years of happy memories that they can use to make years of new memories for their families.

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