So I want to know how many people actually look forward to the big holidays. And how many people live to regret it.
For every happy, cheesy, life-is-wonderful-and-everyone-in-our-family-loves-each-other-so-much movie there are ten about the dysfunctional, we-got-together-and-we're-just-glad-no-one-killed-anyone movies. Do you think this is just because Hollywood has a grim world view? I don't. In fact, I know it's not because I've experienced my share of holidays from hell.
There was the one when I was on the phone with my grandma telling her how much my Christmas presents sucked and found out my mom was on the other phone listening. (Yeah, I learned a lesson about gratitude that day. Through my mom's tears.)
There was the one when we were all around the Thanksgiving table and my brother in-law revealed to everyone at the table that our niece was conceived out of wedlock (she knew, others didn't). Very religious family; it was a big deal.
Or the Christmas when this kid hit that kid with one of the Christmas chimes. The father of the victim thought there should be an apology. The father of the perpetrator didn't think it was a big deal. They ended up in a yelling match, others got involved, someone got shoved into the wall, several people were pulled apart by others, and as we watched everyone storm away in their cars my husband and I looked at each other wondering if we should lock up (we were the only ones still there and it wasn't our house).
And none of us even drink. These were all without alcohol. I know there are other, much more intense, stories out there about family holidays gone bad. Ask anyone who works in the emergency room or as a cop and they'll tell you. Holidays are ugly.
I have a few hypotheses. Nothing proven, but I think you'll agree that the ingredients that go into big family holidays are like mixing bleach and cleanser -- you're lucky if no one dies.
Recipe for a big holiday family get together:
1. High Expectations - this one's going to be the best; everyone's going to have a great time; everyone's going to show up (on time) and bring what they said they would; things are going to go exactly as planned
2. Family - we belong together; we love each other so much; we hardly ever get together (maybe there's a reason); we know everything about each other (secrets, maybe?); we have a history together (which often means a few grudges)
I'm calling those two ingredients bleach and cleanser, because really with those alone you're already in the danger zone. Adding anything else is just for kicks to see how big the explosion will get. But let's toss some in anyway.
New people who don't know where to tread lightly; the girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse/guest who drives you crazy even on a good day; alcohol; grandma's dementia which leads her to say whatever comes into her head (some of which turns out to be long kept secrets); poor communication/unspoken expectations (we wanted to watch movies vs. we wanted to watch football, we should pray vs. why does God have to be part of everything?); one part of a couple enjoying themselves while the other wants to be anywhere else; food that doesn't go as planned (the turkey timer that won't pop even though everything else has been ready for over an hour); and did I mention high expectations?
Maybe the only real solution is to change your expectations. Expect things to go wrong. Take bets on who starts arguing first, who plays one-upmanship the best, and who reveals the tastiest tidbit of illicit information. Have a backup meal waiting at home or the hotel (as the case may be) just in case it turns out there's nothing edible. Make sure you have some Excedrin handy.
And if none of these plans give you any hope, do as my therapist once advised. Go ahead and take a Valium. Your desire to kill, and your ability to do so, will be greatly diminished.