Yesterday I mused about Christmas partying and social stresses and I hope you'll contribute by adding your thoughts in the comments. Remember, I'm a bit of a novice in all of this, being Jewish.
Today, on Christmas Eve, I'm focusing on family and friends.
If you have lost a close member of your family this year, all your family Christmas traditions will seem tinged with memories and a subtext of sadness. It's natural, but poignant and very difficult the first year. My heart goes out to you.
Then, there are the family gatherings. If they're few and far between, only a couple of times of year, they can have their challenges, too.
Compared to Christmas cocktail parties, family Christmas parties pack special stresses.
Consider this comparison. Venue is everything. Christmas cocktail parties are not for serious conversations. Dinner parties often are.
Christmas cocktail parties are often all about superficials. Appearances. Especially crowded house parties where no one can move or carry on a meaningful conversation. Or where everyone's drinking, as they are wont to do at this time of year and trying hard to have a grand old time. Maybe even drinking to mask their anxieties about seeing people they haven't seen for a long time. It's always a little nerve wracking.
A trick I've learned is to focus outward, instead of inward. Ask questions. Be curious. Interested. This is very flattering and puts anyone in a good frame of mind.
As a teetotaller, parties at this time of year make for entertaining but socially isolating party viewing. There's not much significant social interaction. But most people go to Christmas parties to relax and "let go" – not for "significant" social intercourse. "Insignificant" intercourse, perhaps.
Christmas dinners are different. They're either tonight or tomorrow. Perhaps all weekend. They're potent and concentrated. Even if there's a general feeling of goodwill in the air and most of the time, people are happy to see each other.
Except if you have family issues – old hurts that haven't yet healed. Or if all the "old records" play. You know what happens when you return to the family roost. You may be 35, but somehow you start behaving with your siblings like you're 14. Old rivalries die hard when you're back in the nest.
Then, even a Christmas dinner can be an emotional minefield.
How can your gird your emotional loins for this stuff?
All I can suggest is to keep smiling, be polite, stay closer to the mistletoe than the bar and beware of the eggnog. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and loosens tongues. I've learned the hard way that at family functions of any kind, often I have to walk on eggshells. It's not always easy, rarely fun, but it's safe.
Keep in mind that Christmas is just for one day a year.
Finally, there's always the food. Food is a great help. Keeping your mouth full prevents you from saying things you may regret or that may be misinterpreted. (Unless you tend to talk with your mouthful. This is not recommended. Family lore will dine out on you for years if you do.)
At Christmas Dinners, whether sit down or buffet, it's all about the food and trust me, I know about food-oriented fetes. Every Jewish Holiday is really all about the food, except Yom Kippur. That's about fasting. But Erev Yom Kippur and Breaking the Fast are all about food. Passover Seders are all about foods without flour. (Fluffy matzoh balls, for example. God help you if they're like little golf balls. The family will never forget it.)
If you are spending Christmas Day with friends, that might prove a little easier.
For me, sit-down Christmas dinners are a breeze compared cocktail parties and buffets, no matter what's on the menu. Seat me at an exquisitely set table with my name on a little card and nine others around me, even if they're people I don't know well, I'm happy. I'm temporarily at home. I can easily engage, converse and find emotional and gastronomic fulfillment. I become rooted for the evening and that's good for me.
Everything tastes good at Christmas, too!
Especially the meaningful conversation that can be sampled around the Christmas table. This is my kind of fun. Not cocktail talk. I have no skills at small talk. I'm a big talker. You can discuss the issues of the day at a Christmas dinner. You can be clever and quippy if you wish. You can celebrate the growth and development of the resident children and watch them mature with each passing year. After all, isn't Christmas all about the children? They're wonder. They're joy.
In the back of your mind you know that much of the world is taking a short, 24-hour Christmas break. (Except for people who work in essential services working for double time and a half, if they're lucky. And soldiers, who never can relax.)
It's a comforting feeling. I have attended the same Christmas dinner for the last 26 years with my closest friend, her family and friends. All the same usual suspects, year after year. Children who were six and eight are now married young professionals. I love seeing them at Christmas.
In 1999, when I met and and then a year later married Marty, he was instantly included and adored. Christmas night is the one night every year we always anticipate with relish. I enjoy having someone to hold my hand on the icy streets, though we're rarely seated together at this beautiful meal. It's always lovely to have a partner at a party and for me, this is a very new experience. It only took me 50 years.
These days, I have other social issues. Because of my serious hearing loss, my two behind-the-ear hearing aids are problematic at parties of any kind. They amplify everything, so a social gathering of more than 10 becomes isolating. I hear only noise. But, I'm a great listener and I lip read brilliantly. So, life is good.
Give me a Christmas party any day over sitting at home or in a psychiatric hospital room, alone. I've done that, too. Health really is the greatest of all gifts. I choose to minimize the importance of stress. To focus on the positives. It's all in the attitude.
Ultimately, I am very grateful for all I have. For my family, Marty's grown daughters, my relative health and most of all, for you. What a gift you are in my life. What a gift this blog is. A whole new world has opened up to me. The Toronto Star and my new friend and fine editor Brandie Weikle who has offered to publish my posts all through the holidays, while she's off work and at home with her young boys.
How lucky can you get!
So, tonight, Christmas Eve, I wish you all well. I wish you health and friendship and companionship. I wish you the most important life force I can think of – the gift of hope and recovery.
Merry Christmas and don't forget to click on the official NORAD Santa Tracker. Your children will love it and the child in you will love it, too.
Think fun. It's only one day a year. You'll be fine. I know it.
Tomorrow always comes. See you next week!
Smile. It helps. Smiling is contagious.
With affection and gratitude and all the best for the season,