My conversation started with innocent enough intentions.
Few short phrases in the English language are as loaded. Perhaps “Are you late?” and “Did they convict?” come close to being as charged.
My friend’s answer was honest, if impolitic.
“My bad... was I supposed to have those?”
Ever the optimist, I pressed on.
“I was asking if in fact you DID. I can infer, using my acute powers of deduction, that you do NOT. Ah Ha!”
“Have 'em? That was the point. I didn't know that was supposed to happen.”
“Oh, yeah. Some folk house hop. Some have dinner at their home. Some are going out of town to be with family, some have family coming to town to be with them.”
“Wow. That must come from the Latin roots Holi- which must mean ‘tolerating ghetto/bourgeois-ass relatives’ and -dare which means ‘Oh GOD, not this time of year again.’"
You know what? For as long as I remember, this has been my least favorite time of year.
My favorite holiday memories, if I recall, are of one Thanksgiving where my small family and I travelled north of the border, where, at that time, it was not a holiday at all.
The other was a Christmas day when I was single, living in downtown Chicago. I spent half of the day alone in bed, reading. That evening, I went to my grandmother’s home on the South side, gave relatives their gifts, and after an hour or so of conversation (no, I did not eat), I returned downtown, treating myself to the late night premiere of “Jackie Brown.”
My aversion to the winter holidays isn’t because I have recently come across the origins of said days find myself appalled. In my family, we did history. We acknowledged early on the true meaning and histories behind these days of celebration. After gnashing our teeth in anger at both the facts and folks’ ignorance of them, we assuaged ourselves with the idea that family coming together was the real beauty of such times, not the historical ugliness and frauds that created them.
My mother wrote stories for my brother and me as children, detailing her own childhood holidays. Relatives would caravan from down south to Chicago, hordes of kids would be stuck on sofas and floors in sleeping bags, food cooking from 4am and fun until people fell asleep from turkey induced torpor. Love was thicker than turkey aroma in the air.
Those are just not my memories. I do not begrudge my mama hers. Growing up Black in Chicago during that era, those holidays and other family gatherings offset coming of age through an ugly period in our history. I am happy she has a fondness for days that could matter less to me.
I spent years thinking it was just me.
Time has taught me, however, many people my age don’t have those stereotypical memories of the Black holiday season, replete with “Soul Food” type dinner gatherings and hearty laughter and joy to spare.
They have the “Ohmylawd I’m stressed I gotta make this dish for dinner at my people’s house it’s taking forever I made it I dropped it off and lo and behold I get there and my sister is talking mess now I wanna fight her who does she think she is she does this every holiday…”
“My Uncle Pete and my cousin are in there at 2pm clearing out a fifth of Hennesy and come dinner time we are gonna have to pretend we don’t know they blasted as my uncle takes any opportunity (say, when served dark meat instead of white) to tell my grandma she never loved him because he was the darkest in the family. My cousin will start crying midway through because his wife/girlfriend/baby mama took the baby to her mama’s house for the holiday. No one wants to tell my uncle to grow up and repeat to my cousin he shoulda married that girl, so now dinner is ruined...”
“I can do my people, crazy as they are. My husband’s people are from planet Ignant, however. They come in trying to make you feel you’re nothing, with they trifling selves. They just nasty. Never bring anything, mind you, just show up ready to eat us outta house and home and then complain after they inhaled everything on the table…They leave ashes all over my furniture and I swear one a them babies was conceived in my coat closet...”
“My wife’s family bougie as all get out. You’d think, to hear them talk, this was a family on something. Please. They come in like Black royalty or something. Pulling up in a 15 year old Mercedes they bought used four years ago. They like to look down on folk cuz they so “educated”. Three of ‘em got associates degrees and the one boy who been working on his PhD FOREVER ain’t never held no job, and he’s pushing 40, and we know the one they keep saying is a minister is really the choir director, and you KNOW what THAT means…”
“We had just said grace when there was a knock at the door Pookie answered it and was told he had a warrant…they took him then with the turkey leg still in his mouth…”
“My brother and his perfect family come to my folks’ every year and love to rub how much better they are in our faces…”
Drunken relatives. Outside kids. Substance abuse issues. Infidelity. Abuse. Memories of a close relative who passed away during a holiday season. Angry recountings of someone who was hospitalized during same season for self destructive behavior. Someone can’t cook. All of this stuff has people dreading November 24th-January 1st.
For the record? These are associates sharing these tales with me. Such candor from people not really in my circle prohibits me from asking close friends what they think of this season.
I acknowledge the holidays are not my favorite time of year, but I was recently reminded I will have to endure said period annually for the rest of my life. We all will.
So what are we going to do?
My friend made it clear. He is going to do his own thing, without family, without distraction and without drams.
Thanksgiving may as well be some Saturday in March, in that case.
A lot of folk, however, agree with his take on things. Lord knows that I do.
The only suggestion that I can make is not an easy one to implement.
Assess your holiday ritual. If it works for you, then follow it. Some of us have the patience and love to tolerate situations others want to avoid like the plague. Fair enough.
If your ritual does not work for you, however, it may be time to create a new one.
It may be time to have a small dinner with friends, as opposed to family. It may be time to quietly announce to Grandma you won’t make it for the holiday because you are going to try to start your own tradition. Bear in mind, the one your family has practiced for eons began somewhere. Call and offer your wishes for a nice holiday, and then try something, anything new, that may make for better memories. If you feel stuck because you live far from family and this is one of a few times yearly when you get to see them, make slight changes. Opt for staying at a hotel instead of with family. Buy something prepared as opposed to cooking. Set a time when, regardless of how the night is going, that you intend to leave, and make it clear throughout that you need to be back at the NoFamilyAllowed Arms & Suites by that time.
I think a lot of us have come to dread the holidays because they are excuses for having to endure behavior that is anything but celebratory. You can’t do anything about how others act. You can, however, control your exposure to them.
Times are hard. We all have challenges. Let’s try to find, at the very least, relaxation over the next over commercialized, food and drink sodden month or so.
Ending the holidays on a good, or different, note may very well set the stage for a happier more peaceful new year.
Is it really that time if year again?