Friday, December 20, 2013

Where to Go For the Holidays - Tough Choices

So where are you going for the holidays?


            That’s a question families everywhere face each year, and the answers vary depending on a number of factors.  Geography, religion, children, illnesses, divorce, aging relatives and weather are just some of the circumstances that come into play in this most sensitive and personal of decisions.


            When I was a child, our family hosted holiday dinners almost every year.  We had the biggest house, and 20-25 people was the norm come Thanksgiving or Christmas.  We kids loved staying at home but still getting to see so many relatives, including some we only saw at this these events.  If not for those dinners, I would have never really known my Uncle Percy.  The memories of those days are priceless.


            Then when I was twelve, my parents split up.  Things got messy, and holidays became something of a strain.  The gatherings were smaller, we started going elsewhere more often, and it just wasn’t the same.


            At 16 I started dating the girl I would eventually marry.  We began attending at least two family celebrations each holiday, trying to make everyone happy.  We wed five years later and continued the practice.  It was inconvenient and tiring, but we managed


            Then we had our first child.  And thus began a gut-wrenching tug of war familiar to many families, one which kept us debating and negotiating for a couple of decades.


            Everyone (mostly grandparents) wanted to see the kids on Christmas and were devastated at even the possibility they might not.  We all lived in the same general area, so geography could not be used as a reason.  But it soon became apparent to us that rushing around with children on Christmas Day was not a lot of fun.


            Still we did it, believing it worth the effort.  With each passing year we would float the possibility of staying home for our own dinner.  Our house was too small to host, but we thought perhaps we would see one family before the holiday and one after.


            But the guilt and gnashing of teeth was awful.  My grandmother – who I loved more than anything – cried the first year we announced the plan.  She told me there would be a time when she wasn’t around, and she didn’t want to miss her one-year-old great-grandson on Christmas.  We told her she had to understand.


            Then she suddenly got sick, and died that Christmas Day.  One of the last things she asked me was to please let her see “my baby” on Christmas Day.  I promised I would, but never got the chance.  That was my saddest Christmas, but in many ways my most meaningful one. 


We told ourselves then we would do whatever necessary to see family on holidays.  In the years that followed we bought a bigger house and started hosting.  We still did some double celebrations, but the number was greatly reduced.


            You might think all this would make me more understanding when faced with the holiday situation after my kids had their own families.  And you would be wrong. 


I was every bit as bad as our parents were in the beginning, unable to process the thought I might not see my kids and grandchildren on Christmas.  I laid on the guilt, just as thick as they had.


            Today my younger son and his family live several states away.  They are extremely good about alternating holidays.  My oldest and his family live nearby, and they have been equally good at doing the same.  And I have eased off the guilt trips.  Not much, mind you.  Just slightly, but I’m trying.


            It is difficult having lots of family who want you on holidays.  But trust me, it’s more difficult when those doing the wanting are gone.  So the eternal struggle to find the middle ground continues, and each family does what it thinks is best.


            It’s not selfish to want to spend Christmas at home with your family.  But that desire often doesn’t fade with age.  Still, as we get older, we have to accept our changing roles.  But nowhere does it say we have to always like it.


No matter where you go this season, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all you good readers.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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