The Holidays, as we affectionately call them, have been a challenging time for me as an adult. They were much easier when I was a child. My Mom had the vast majority of her family close by and we gathered for ritualistic feasting, drinking, and hanging out with cousins. Adhering to the traditions brought forward by my Grandparents, we worked to carry on as they did. Family gathered, huge meals that took hours to make and eat, copious amounts of alcohol, German Polka records playing, cards and games in abundance. Over time, and as the definition of family started to change and morph, so did the way we chose to and were able to celebrate the Holidays.
I left home at 19 and moved a couple thousand miles away. I had no money and soon was a young single mother. I had no family around and no means to provide much, if anything. I remember putting toys for my daughter on layaway at K-Mart. This process started months ahead of Christmas and I paid my monthly balance until I had presents for under our tree. There was no fancy dinner or cadre of relatives. Just to two of us making the Holiday what I could.
Time passed, she grew up, and I tried to make the Holidays special. What we did depended much on what I was doing or how I was feeling or what resources I had, or did not have, as was often the case. I made a turkey, I ordered pizza, sometimes we traveled. We went out or went to friends homes or even got flown to see relatives if the weather cooperated. Sometimes we just stayed home. We had a real tree and one time we had a Rosemary bush. The Holidays were exhausting, stressful, and rarely enjoyable for me. I was a dedicated working mother with very little money or means. Maybe I had time off, or maybe I was working even more. The traditions and rituals of my family were a constant reminder of my shortcomings.
As time passed, more of my family moved, married, birthed their own children or divorced. Along with that the definition of family and Holiday celebrations began to shift. Who my family was and where they were and what we did started to change. I continued to work hard to make the Holidays special and joyous, even if that was not how I was feeling. My daughter and I did what we chose to do and what worked best for us at that moment. Sure, there were presents and usually a tree, maybe we even stayed up to ring in the new year, but anything else we did was of our choosing. The Holidays were about what worked for us.
Eventually, the travel stopped altogether and I created a family of our own. My daughter grew up and spent the Holidays with friends of her own. Again, I was in a position to spend the Holidays in whatever way worked best for me, my partner, or my immediate little family. I always sent cards or letters during this time and still, to this day, enjoy the same in return.
Now, as I write this, I am at camp in a state park in Texas. The weather is clear and sunny. There are not many people here and it is fairly quiet. I did not sent cards this year, and if I got any, I will not see them for months. I did not get to my Dad’s house, which was my goal for this Holiday. In fact, I will be on the road for all of the Holidays I celebrate. No presents, no baking, no cooking, no tree and no cards or letters. No pressures, no deadlines, no work schedules, no expectations, no crowded travel. In fact, this feels like any other day on the road. Just another day.
I know I am missing time with family… but, am I really? I spent time with family. What I do miss is my family of faith. I cherish the shared times of community and a common platform during this time. That I do miss. I do not miss the crowds or the same music or the expectations or the pressures. I do not miss flying across the country with a million other people and I do not miss the pressure to buy things nobody needs or attend a party just to be out of place and alone.
My plan for Christmas day? Stay warm, have a fire and dink my tea. Try to call or text or reach out to loved ones. Go on a hike or a walk. Pack and shower. Get ready to move camp the next day. Business as usual, really. If not for the decorations I see all around and on Facebook, I would not know this day was any different than any other day. Different because I am on the road, but all too familiar as a single woman who has lived far from family for her entire adult life.
My plan to ring in the New Year? Camp in Big Bend National Park and look at the stars. Hike and bike and explore, as usual. Just another day at camp.
These Holi-days should be about love and fellowship and a sense of community and belonging. These days should not be about things and pressures and deadlines and expectations. Spend your Holidays in love, faith and gratitude, be you alone or with others. Chose what works for you. Or, just choose to be.