What were the Christmas family gatherings like when you were growing up? I can still remember mine as though it was only a few seasons back. I was one of a dozen or more kids running wild in the basement. The others were my cousins. We made up our own games, played hide-n-seek, and played pool. Sometimes we even bothered to use the sticks. We did our best to burn off the sugar we were putting into our system at a prodigious rate. It was the only chance we could since those cookies would be much more severely regulated the other eleven months of the year. Eventually, some of the older cousins and younger aunts and uncles would want to take over the pool table and we would all be kicked outside. There the mayhem would continue with snowball wars if there was snow, tree climbing if there wasn’t and the occasional scrapes, arguments and bruises that are a prerequisite for family fun.
The doors between the outside, the den, and the dining room would see a constant flow of traffic as we kids would regularly flow in and out to load up on more cookies, candy, pie, and perhaps even some “real” food. Sometime after dinner we would have the opening of presents. Then a game of Risk or Axis and Allies would start up and a good half dozen of or more participants would be occupied for the remainder of the evening. Of course some of the family would bring their pets and my asthma would get so bad I would be fighting for each breath. Even still it would do nothing to take away the love and joy and excitement of Christmas with the bigger family. Just thinking about it now, I am frustrated because the words I put down here do not even begin to do justice to the beautiful memories I am conjuring up.
Of course over time most of those cousins got married and started having kids of their own. Some things the adults swept under the rug at the time have since come to light and stolen some of our innocent and childlike joy. My grandma and four of her eight children along with other siblings and cousins have passed away. In the two decades since I have graduated high school and left home, many of the people populating my memories have started populating heaven. In other words, life has happened and things don’t always stay as rose colored as our memories tend to make them. On the flip side, God has healed me from asthma and I no longer have to fear what showing a little love to a pet would do to my breathing. Also, the advancements in technology since those days makes connecting so much easier. Even though I will be an ocean away, I can still skype an appearance at the reunions that do take place. Whoever I call will end up passing the phone around from person to person. I will get to see how much the kids have grown, I will catch up with those who I don’t talk to regularly as well as chat with those I do. There will still be plenty of opportunities for joy, love, and family even though we are worlds apart.
It was a shock to me to learn that not everybody’s family is as large as ours was. Not everybody has a good dozen aunts and uncles and a few dozen first cousins. Not everybody has family reunions that get around 40-50 people in November and December and as many as 100 plus in the summer. What was your family like growing up? Did you have a family rich in love though poor in finances? Were you raised in a family that had financial stability but absolutely no peace and emotional security? Were you shuffled from one divorced parent to the other for the holidays?
We cannot change our pasts. Good or bad, it is what it is. We can, however, chose what memories to dwell on. I chose how each and every one of these Christmases at my aunt’s house are remembered. If I wanted, I could focus on how my asthma within minutes became so overwhelming that I couldn’t even stand straight. I could never possibly muster enough oxygen to keep up with my cousins. I was usually the one leading the charge to get us all outside simply because my lungs could not tolerate one more minute in that enclosed environment. I could focus in on the worst Christmas ever. I could get stuck always reliving the one we had barely a month after my dad suddenly died from a freak sports injury. One cousin said that our family personifies the line in a famous hymn: “Where sorrow and love flow mingled down”.
There is a time to grieve. There is a time to mourn and process through the pain and hurts that sometimes can become so much larger during the holiday season. This is not that time. In these coming weeks, I will be introducing people from very different cultural and even religious perspectives to what Christmas means to me. I will be sharing with them the very true message, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” Am I a hypocrite if I tell them about the joy of Christmas and then wallow in self pity and misery most of the holiday season because I am all alone? Am I a hypocrite to myself if I just put all of that pain and hurt in the closet to be dealt with when the crowds have disappeared?
I don’t think so. When it comes time to celebrate with friends, neighbors and family I am going to chose to focus on what is truly honorable, on what is right and pure, on what is lovely, on is admirable, and most of all I will focus on the joy of Christmas. I pray you do the same. This season: Feliz Navidad. I wish you a merry Christmas.
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