Not Just a Facsimile of Family

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” –  Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

ImageI am well known as the Christmas Grinch in my family. I can’t really explain exactly why I dislike the whole thing so much, but as far as I can tell there are a number of tiny reasons why it gets up my nose.

I won’t go into the details as this is not the point of my post, but in part, I guess, my beef is that Christmas just never looks like the picture on the box.

We have all the right ingredients:

  • Loving family who mostly get along just fine
  • Great food
  • Presents
  • Tree
  • A little alcohol
  • Traditions

We mix it all up with care, set the temperature to “Melbourne Summer” and bake the lot for the requisite amount of time…

But, the thing is, unlike the Christmas movies, no one has a script for the cute jokes and light-hearted banter and it ends up being “just another family gathering”, only with too many presents, food that takes an age (and an army) to get to the table and a mountain of washing up.

See… Grinch.

Incidentally, my older sister is the opposite. I don’t think the entire Pacific Ocean could dampen her Christmas Spirit. No matter how many fights she has with our younger sister, or how many Cranberry Sauce stains get on the tablecloth or how many toddler tantrums accent the 5th replay of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, she remains joyful (if slightly bossy) about the whole shebang…

Sometimes I wonder how we can be related…but I digress.

Anyhoo, I recently heard an interesting discussion regarding Christmas and family on Radio National’s Life Matters program. It was a modern day dilemma:

A woman who grew up Catholic has married a Hindu man and part of their marriage agreement includes not having any kind of meat in their home. The couple are hosting Christmas this year and the woman’s parents want to insist that Roast Turkey be served at the meal. The woman politely reminded her parents of how their religion does not allow them to eat meat, but they were less than understanding, accusing their daughter of being fundamentalist and selfish (amongst other things). She was understandably upset by this interaction… torn between loyalties to her husband’s beliefs and her parents’ wishes.

The debate was an interesting one (and one which made me feel lucky not to have such controversy to overcome in our own Christmas lunch planning). However, one things stuck out for me…

One of the advice dispensers went against the idea of planning a meal outside of the couple’s home (eg in a restaurant) to avoid the conflict. Instead, he believed the couple should serve a meal appropriate to their household beliefs (their beliefs trumped her parents’ preferences in his opinion). He asserted that while Christmas may be held up as the season of peace and goodwill for all mankind, it often doesn’t go that way… and we shouldn’t expect it to.

What he said next made something in my brain go “ding!”…

He made the point that for many, Christmas has primarily come to represent an opportunity for a family to come together as a whole.  That is your family, not some manufactured “facsimile of family” – a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out following a script. These gatherings are a time to come face to face with the reality of each other and what that means.

The reality of each other…

The arguments, the present “fails”, the bored teenagers glued to whatever screen they can find, the cheesy bon-bon jokes, the washing up… the completely mundane “normalcy” of it all… that’s what family is.

So with 19 days to go, I will try to embrace the preparations with an open mind and heart… and not settle for the fantasy, the mere copy of a “Merry Christmas”… because I get to enjoy the real thing.

Lucky me!



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2 responses to “Not Just a Facsimile of Family

  1. ljwpossum

    Love the post. I admit it freely and without a tinsel of shame – I love Christmas. Not just the day itself but the whole jingle bell rocking, over-decorate tree-lined multi-coloured baubled road to it. I love the carols, the cheesy Christmas movies, the baking, the planning, picking out the perfect presents, and damn it – I love Bing Crosby and his ‘White Christmas’. Most of all though, I love the chaos, the love and the special traditions that belong to your family alone. Every year we make our own crackers, we’ve had to cut back on the gifty things inside as the family gathering has grown, but the essence of the tradition remains. They look slightly bent and are never uniform in size but hey – it isn’t about the crackers. It is about the making of them, the banter of ‘have you put the scratchy in that one’ and ‘this one has no joke’. The person trying to call dibs on the scratchy they have a ‘gut feeling’ about. I even loved the year my sister decided to put Buffy the Vampire Slayer quotes instead of jokes. I love seeing the Myer windows, the predictable, tasty-cheesy television specials. It is definitely true that Christmas is not a ‘one-size fits all’ cardboard cut-out scripted affair.

    My favourite moment is just before everyone descends, when the table (usually decorated according to my vision for the year) is free from Pollock-like splatters and the tree (leaning a little to the left under the weight of five-times to many decorations) shrugs festively in the corner surrounding by a sea of too many gifts, when I can look across the promise of Christmas to the strains of the Kings College Choir and give thanks that I have so many wonderful people to share it with.

    I accept (sort of), that we don’t live in Who-ville, Bing Crosby will not appear to croon over our feast, there is no record of a third lobster in the nativity (for the record I was always a crepe papered angel), nor will the magic of Christmas bring me George Clooney. However, while we may not get to lunch with the Vicar of Dibbley or enjoy Christmas miracles of 34th Street, Our Christmas is still magical – every spilt drink, every splatter, every argument and every bad joke! Hands off Grinch.

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