Stress, reluctant encounters, unresolved issues, and guilt-induced motivations — no, this isn't the annual therapists convention. I'm talking about the holidays.
Please don't get me wrong. Thanksgiving and Christmas are surely joyful occasions. The Keeper of Holidays couldn't do better than to schedule the one-two punch of a blessed harvest festival just one month before the celebration of the birth of Christ. And the proximity of the two holidays helps solve the problem of how to fairly divide holiday time between two sets of in-laws.
But whereas the holidays — and Christmas in particular — seem ideally suited for the smaller nuclear family unit, holiday stress seems to grow exponentially as children become adults and start their own families, transforming holiday celebrations into extended family reunions.
I remember a classic Thanksgiving episode of the 1990s television sitcom, Rosanne. Rosanne's parents and her husband Dan's parents are crammed into the Connor family's already tight dining area with their three children, Rosanne's sister Jackie, and some assorted cousins. Rosanne's mom still has issues with her daughters and complains loudly about them in the presence of Dan's mom, who can't stand her in-law counterpart. Meanwhile, Dan still has unresolved issues with his dad. Old arguments get revisted. Insults fly. Feelings get hurt. Then Rosanne, who has been busy with the details of cooking, tosses the turkey platter on the table with a loud bang and says acerbically, "Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!"
I think it was Charlie Brown who said to Linus: "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives,"
Unfortunately, unresolved family issues have a way of bringing out the old sibling rivalries and parental resentments. Is it any wonder that the holidays are the most stressful time of year?
It doesn't have to be this way. Instead of waiting until the holidays to see your original family unit, how about maintaining contact with them throughout the year? Is there an unresolved issue with your sister? Visit her or call her in July and have a heart-to-heart conversation. Don't get along with your dad? Spend time with him during spring break. The point is to try and diffuse things before they come to a head during the winter holidays. Will forgiveness help? Ask for it or grant it.
Do not forget the power of prayer. Ask the Holy Family for a special blessing at this time. Pray to God for patience and strength. And, for heaven's sake, stay away from alcohol during family gatherings. Alcohol has a way of loosening tongues and inhibitions that can only make a bad situation worse.
Yes, these might be naive suggestions. That's the optimist in me. I realize that some family situations might be beyond repair. If so, God be with you. Let us pray for each other.
I think Tom Booth's song says it best:
We gotta love, love, love each other.
We gotta love, love, love ourselves.
And if we love, love, love
with the love of the Lord,
we're given all the happiness
that we could hope for.
Love one another,
sister and brother,
father and mother.
Jesus said, "Love one another,
(love one another) as I loved you!"
So, happy holidays! And may God bless us, everyone!
(Image: Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want)
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