Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holidays from Hell

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.

Optional ingredients:
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.

Good luck!


Jessica Grosland said...

Mom, if you didn't want me to come home for Thanksgiving, you could have just said so.

And might I add a few optional ingredients: a vomiting child, a surprise guest, someone who hates the food you made, the dog eating someone's plate of food while they were playing in the other room, a card game that turns vicious, and a can of pepper spray. (Maybe that last one only happens in Dad's family...)

Day said...


Lisa said...

Great post. As they say in Al-Anon, "Expectations are pre-meditated resentments." Happy Thanksgiving! :-)

Kazzy said...

But I like high expectations. I don't man unrealistically high, but high. Low expectations give low results. People should learn to exercise restraint and show respect. And nurturing relationships year-round is the key. To think a holiday gathering is going to spontaneously produce magic and fairy dust is ridiculous, but when people keep in good contact and learn to deal in a civilized way with each other during normal, everyday activities, the holidays won't be such a powder keg.

Of course, there are wild cards, like the new girlfriend, etc, but if the stage is mostly set for a decent time, I think it can happen.

The Way I See It said...

Well...we're boring. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at one of your gatherings. Free entertainment! :)

Bonnie said...

Wow. Your life is way too exciting for me. We laugh a lot through the holidays and eat way too many things with whipping cream in them. That's about it. There can be some animated games of boggle, but nothing to compete with yours. I guess I have something else to add to the "thank list"!

Grace said...

Last Thanksgiving, my uncle got so drunk (off of wine, the only thing served) that he puked off of the second story porch at my mom's house.

I thought it was hilarious. My mom did not.

dawn said...

hey this why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday... right after Halloween that is.

Family together watching TV- football, countdown to christmas movies, dvd's - that's why there are 3 tvs in the main part of the house. You don't like the football game, go in the other room and watch Scrooge with everyone else!
There are no expectations... except to come over, eat the food I made and visit a while.
Unlike Christmas where everyone expects the best presents ever... even on a budget tighter than Beyonce's pants... and the big let down that comes the day after when the music and the movies all suddenly stop after 2 months of non-stop Holiday cheer.
The kids don't like what they get for Christmas... no problem. I am sure I can find someone on the street who will ... and the kids know I will so they take what they get and are happy to have it.

This year... they are lucky to have a window without a hole in it and a ceiling without a hole in it... not because I think they don't need the holes since they made them, but because the draft was making me cold and the heating bill would be sky high if I waited til they earned the money to pay for the repairs.

Welcome to the Holiday Season... if it were up to me we would just skip right to New Years now!