Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving. It’s officially “the holiday season”! Personally, I love the holidays, but I know there are many, many people for whom the holidays are particularly trying, and that made me start to think a little as I was reflecting back on the things for which I’m grateful.
Family. I consider myself lucky. I grew up in a standard family, perhaps more comfortable than some, but with many of the usual family dynamics. My mom’s family were immigrants from Poland, so we had a lot of cultural background and tradition from that side. We lived back east, close to that branch of the family, so I have a lot of happy memories of church, meals, and large family gatherings. My dad’s side of the family lived across the country (at that time) in Olympia, Washington. My dad’s mom was married five times. My dad never knew his father. For a number of reasons, he ran away and joined the U.S. Navy when he was too young to enlist. It — like most everything else — didn’t stop him. Anyway, I share that because my father didn’t necessarily have that traditional upbringing and family to offer, and although we did get to know our Washington-based relatives when we moved here in the late 1970s, we were never close. My parents were (and frankly, still are) hard workers. My dad served on submarines in the Navy for 22 years. He then went to work at General Dynamics Electric Boat. He worked another 20 years before retiring. My mom stayed home with four kids until my youngest brother went to elementary school. Then she went to work, too. She worked nearly 20 years for EDS. They provided a great middle-class upbringing and a fine example of marriage and child-rearing (with a few exceptions). We had lovely homes, and everything we needed (and much of what we wanted). I have three younger brothers. They’re all successful and happy in their personal lives. None of us have any reason to complain. We are all reasonably healthy (including my dad who will be 80 this year). My immediate family has been relatively unscathed by death (except as a result of aging) and we are all fairly fond of each other. And I have children. They are my heart. And my second husband is the love of my life. Sometimes, we just need a do-over. I am lucky in family.
Friends. I can honestly say that if there was one thing I could do better, it might be friendship. Although I think sometimes my expectations are too high here. My very best friend is my husband. He knows me. He sees me. And he still loves me.
I have a lot of other friends. Some I’ve known for years, since I was a girl — while we don’t see each other often (some are across the country), when we do get together, it’s like we’ve never been apart. Others are a newer, adult friends, and while we know our lives go through cycles of time and place, some are close enough to really be called “friends” – they would be there if needed, can be counted on to let me vent when I’m having a bad day (without judging), and support me in the sometimes zany ideas I have. I also have two adult children – my two oldest sons. I would like to think that if I wasn’t first and foremost their mom, we would be friends, because I like them so much as people. And I think they like me, too.
Faith. This one’s harder. I’ve gone through phases in my life where I regularly attend church. Other times, I may go years without attending. But I never lose touch with my faith. God is a part of my life every day. My Catholic upbringing guides my behavior in so many ways. I know I’m not a perfect Catholic (or Christian for that matter). I swear sometimes. I say unkind things about bad drivers in Seattle. I’m frequently impatient and short-tempered. But I do try. I try to be kind, and generous, and giving (instead of taking). And sometimes, when I don’t know what else to do, I let everything go. I had a friend while my kids were growing up who used to say “Let Go, let God” (thank God for you, Lael). I had never heard that before, but it has become a mantra for me as I’m a worrier, with some tremendously compulsive behaviors. I have always known that God has a plan, and that I may not always be privy to that plan, but it’s been a pretty recent development learning to “let go.” I’m not sure I could let go for anyone else, but God. And it helps. And it reminds me — every time I do it — that I am a person of faith. Because faith is believing without knowing.
So, as I get ready to embark upon the holiday season, these are the three things that I try to focus on: Family, Friends and Faith. For my family, I try to ensure that our holiday traditions, and those special things that we do (sometimes as simple as a family game of Pictionary) always happen. We don’t “forget” or let things slide. I want my kids to grow up with the familiar and comfortable things that we did as a family, so they have something to share with their families as they grow. I bake cookies – because I’ve always baked cookies. It’s not Christmas without my Christmas cookies. So I bake – when I feel like it or not, whether there’s time or not. I decorate with traditional decorations — my adult children have Christmas stockings I made when they were born (one is crocheted, and the other is knit). They’re nearly 30 years old, and juvenile in design. But those stockings are theirs, and they expect to see them hung on our mantle every Christmas. I also work very hard to ensure everyone has one great gift. It may not be expensive. But I love to surprise my loved ones with something they didn’t even know they wanted. The most important thing for family though, is the same for friends: make time. Make time to be together. Even if it’s just a little time – a quick happy hour, or a short visit before a road trip to see the in-laws (we have to share them, right?). Somehow we get over to my parents (using the ferries) during the holidays. Wait times can be tough, be we work through it.
With my friends, I try to take my cues from them – a night of shopping, a night of gift wrapping (and wine, of course — or in my case, margaritas), a holiday dinner out, attending a special holiday event together — whatever it takes, however we can work it. Time is often our most previous gift. Spend it on the people important to you.
And remember – there IS a reason for the season. Whether you are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or of any other faith and culture. We don’t have to have the same beliefs. But let’s all remember that whatever holidays we celebrate, they all represent something similar: a time of good will, good cheer and good tidings. I don’t know of any culture that celebrates a time of year when we are mean and ugly to each other because the calendar says it’s time.
If we do nothing else for each other during these sometimes trying days, keeping good will, good cheer and good tidings foremost in our minds for each other will make EVERYONE happier and the holidays brighter.
I would love to hear about your holiday traditions, the things that make your holidays special — or trying. And I wish you joy and happiness as we head into this special time.