Or how I broke Christmas…
A Good Cry. Do you ever feel so overwhelmed and worn out that you cannot stop the tears from falling? That’s exactly how I felt during the autumn of 1997. That was the year I irreparably broke with our traditional Christmas celebration and fractured my relationships with my cousins.
A little family history before I begin…
My mum was the eldest of three children, all girls. The youngest was born just before the outbreak of WWII and she was evacuated her to her uncle’s home in Toronto. My mum and her other sister were both taken out of school to work in the Fairey Aviation plant. By the end of the war my Nana was a widow, her home (and place of business) flattened by a bomb and her youngest child stubbornly refused to return to the UK. With no other options, Nana packed the few possessions they’d managed to save and, with her two eldest daughters, immigrated to Canada. From then onwards, every Christmas the three sisters and their families gathered to spend the day and eat dinner together. Until the Christmas of 1997.
Having, apparently, given the matter thoughtful consideration throughout the year, one cousin announced (via e-mail, no less) that, with two small kiddos of her own, she’d much rather stay home for Christmas, host her own celebration, smell their turkey roasting all day long, and make their own, new, special memories. A few days later, she and my aunt appeared at our door to tell us that of course we’d be included and would we please join them.
We being Mum, Cam and I – at just three, the smallest of the family contingents.
Eventually a phone call came from the other branch of the family issuing the same invitation because, of course (???), theirs was the original gathering. And right there was the rub – where do we go? How do we decide? Regardless, we’d be the three outsiders in the room. Regardless, we’d be offending the other family. Some choice!
As painful as it may be,
a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction
that serves us – and those around us – more effectively.*
[Louisa May Alcott]
Behind the scenes, we’d been experiencing some Christmas angst ourselves. Cam’s mum did not like my huge family’s celebration; it was a noisy (carols are sung at the table every year), active, happy rumpus of a day and not at all to her liking. And she would be alone and in Ontario that year. My mum was unhappy that many of the traditions had been abandoned (especially the saying of grace), and that the cousins’ adult kiddos were swanning in and out all day, often not staying to eat and with no opportunity to visit and catch up. Mum also felt that the day’s true meaning seemed to have been lost to us all. I’m not entirely sure (he’d be scared to voice this thought aloud – he he he) but I think Cam never liked our Christmas gathering overmuch. As for me, I loved, LOVED our Christmases but I felt torn between the two families of cousins who were both very dear to me.
One day late in September 1997, on an especially warm afternoon, Mum and I were noodle-floating in our pool when she suddenly said, if you could do anything at all for Christmas, what would it be? I answered without hesitation, run away. The glimmer of a plan germinated there and then…
After conferring with Cam’s mum, the three of us presented Cam with our fait accompli – we were all going to Florida for two weeks – over Christmas and New Year. Instantly I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. As did Mum. As did Cam’s mum. As did Cam (I think).
First, though, it was my duty to tell the cousins – face to face – that we would not be joining them. Either of them. And that’s how I broke, not only Christmas but also, as it turned out, the close, loving relationships I’d enjoyed with my cousins all my life.
Felix culpa – out of something bad, something good. Tickets were purchased, a car rented, a condo chosen and excitement ran high. Our Florida Christmas celebrations were – unexpectedly, if I’m completely honest – some of the happiest of my life. By necessity, they were pared down to the essentials, so our focus was on each other which was sweet and loving and special and perfect. Upon arrival our first order of business that first year was to find a restaurant open for dinner on Christmas day, a church for Christmas Eve services and, at the grocery shop, a poinsettia, some candles and some small decorations for our table at the condo.
Celebrating the birth of baby Jesus in 1997, we were all filled with light, peace, hope and love. That two-week vacation was joyful, we were all relaxed, happy and content. We knew that Christmas in Florida would be a practice we’d continue. Felix culpa.
‘Til next time, y’all…
*This quote felt just right with this post because Ms. Alcott was Mum’s favourite author and this drastic Christmas transformation was Mum’s brain child!