Holiday television shows and advertisements are fun to watch, but they usually give us an unrealistic view of life. The hype of the upcoming seasons blasts into our homes like an avalanche, melding together the months of November and December into one massive festive season. Music blares and nostalgic family scenes tug at our heart strings while stores make pitches for the ideal gift ideas and encourage us to start shopping right away and warn us not to get left behind. Our turkey does not always have that perfect golden brown skin like the famous Butterball one and Mom is rarely wearing a crisp clean apron as she puts the finishing garnishes on the turkey platter. Why one year my sister said that she cooked their bird with the plastic pouch of giblets intact and only made the distasteful discovery when they started carving it!
Complete nuclear families are not always seated around perfectly set candlelit tables decorated with huge seasonal floral centerpieces. Small children in coordinated holiday outfits are rarely patiently waiting for their meals with folded hands. This is what the “perfect” scenario looks like on our TV sets. But then who is “perfect”?
We need to be careful not to aspire to unrealistic goals at this time of year. If we do, disappointment unfortunately becomes the final emotion. Try as best as you can and then let humor smooth out the imperfections. Much as my mother worked on having family holidays executed to a very high standard, the year that the flaming brandy, for the annual Christmas pudding, spilled on to my father’s plaid holiday pants was an unexpected hilarious moment for me. I still have a mental vision of Mom slapping his groin with a wet tea towel and it remains as one of my favorite seasonal childhood memories. The dining room erupted in laughter and fortunately there was no damage to the pants, nor unfortunately to the unpopular fruit cake.
I guess that is why I love National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, which is usually shown at this time of year. It is a more realistic look at what can happen when several generations of family members gather and spend too much time together. I can identify with many of the scenes. At one point in my early childhood there were 4 generations present at my grandfather’s house for Thanksgiving. While my card carrying Woman’s Christian Temperance Union great-grandmother entertained the children with old-fashioned poems and Bible verses upstairs, the remaining 2 generations gathered in the lower level of the garage and enjoyed adult beverages and tobacco products.
And then there was the torturous ritual of stringing outside Christmas lights which was so perfectly portrayed by Clark W. Griswold Jr., the host of the family debacle. One year I worked for 3 hours in the cold only to find that when I finished, the wrong end remained to plug in the entire display. I actually sat down on the frozen front lawn at dusk and cried in frustration and then ripped all of the tiny lights out of the bushes in the impending dark and started all over. Another year at 3 am I ran out of wrapping paper and tape and was so exhausted that I slapped together old newspaper pages and duck tape just to finish the job. At least I did not wrap the dog in my stupor like the elderly Aunt Bethany who wrapped the cat and brought it with the equally insane gift-wrapped lime Jello-O mold to the dinner. The gifts under the tree on that Christmas morning might not have been as pretty as other years, but the scene resulted in many laughs and nobody really cared. We were together.
That is the point. We were together as a family and we were sharing the day. Keep in mind that attendance is not always guaranteed and from year to year the chairs at the table may be more, or sadly less. Count your blessings and be thankful for all that you have and if you can, share with those who are in need. Take time to remember those who are no longer with you and acknowledge their importance in your family. For some the loss may be recent and the pain still very raw. It can be a difficult time for those who are still grieving or separated from their loved ones. The nostalgia of the holidays and happier times highlights the void and makes the present less festive.
“Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift. So too can the holidays.” (John Clayton)
So most of all this season try and relax and have fun. Keep your expectations reasonable and with some good fortune you may even exceed them. It is okay if the gravy is lumpy or if you left the green bean casserole in the microwave oven and noticed it the next morning. Don’t set the bar too high for juvenile behavior and just be glad that they are there and healthy. If they come to the table without shoes and sagging pants, so be it. Take a picture to capture the moment but remember that it probably won’t be on the cover of one of next year’s magazines so it is okay if your apron has a big cranberry stain on it and if one of the younger kids is making a goofy face.
“Forever on Thanksgiving Day
The heart will find the pathway home.”
(Wilbur D. Nesbit)
I hope that you enjoy your Thanksgiving Day with your own loved ones and try to save a little slice of the day in your heart to savor for the rest of the year.