For years I spent Internet space lamenting the onset of the holiday season. Despite my unnatural love of cinnamon-infused aromas, hot chocolate, garish combinations of green and red, and sticking dead trees in the middle of my living room, being single during Advent meant I would come out on the other side of New Year’s feeling just a bit morose.
This wasn’t always directly related to my relationship status at the time. Even when I was girlfriended up, I would still feel like something was missing as the holiday that once brought me uncontrollable joy took on a grayish pallor. In fact, the missing Christmas joy was often a sign that I was with the wrong guy and the season would signal the beginning of the end. An awkward brawl between my ex-fiancé and my brother made me start to question the relationship as we careened toward our wedding. In a later relationship, an appalling tantrum threatening my favorite family traditions triggered a building distrust over the next few months. One that would bubble over into the most heart-wrenching breakup I would ever endure.
When Mr. Man came along, Christmas was decidedly more complete despite the fact that he doesn’t exactly love the season. For him, it’s tainted with bittersweet remembrances of what will never be again. Still, from our very first year together, he’s expended as much energy as possible making sure that all my remaining Christmases are as jolly as possible. The idea that he was willing to do so much to celebrate a time he had grown to loathe when so many others couldn’t so much as act like decent human beings around my family was heartening.
I’m pretty sure the impression he made after our first Christmas directly led to me drunkenly begging him to marry me immediately on our first New Year’s. Sure, he refused that night, but look who won in the long run. (Hint: It was him I’m amazing and he’s super lucky I said, “yes.”)
Now that everything is wonderful and my Christmas spirit has returned in full force, I’ve found new things to struggle with. Navigating the family festivities comes with the usual difficulties every couple faces. Multiple celebrations over the course of several days at different households can burn out even the most jolly of elves. Throw in the added complications that arise when you pair Cindy Lu Who with Mr. Scrooge, and it can be an exercise in compromise of the highest order. One I fear I’m not terribly good at.
I have a ridiculous case of FOMO (so, sorry) when it comes to my family and the holidays. Especially now that the brood of adorable little ones who get excited about Santa and gifts is expanding. I want to participate in every event. So, when the Mr. hems and haws about the prospect of spending time with the remnants of what once was his family, I tend to do little to encourage him the other direction.
As a wife, I struggle to know what my role is in this scenario. Do I sympathize with his disconnected feelings and agree that we don’t need to attend his family events? Or, do I gently remind him that family is important regardless of how it came about? I generally come down in defense of his emotions because, frankly, I think he has every right to feel them, and I see how difficult it is for him to muster up enough cheer to get through each event.
Where I become conflicted, is that I know that saying “no” more often to his family means we’ll have more time for mine. While that is not my motivation for being on his side, I worry how it comes off in his mind or if what he really needs is for me to play Devil’s family advocate. It doesn’t help that I tend to feel just as out of place around his kin as he does. His father is all that remains of the family from his childhood, and while the woman he married, her three children and their significant others are perfectly nice, we have virtually nothing in common.
I understand there are many times in life when you need to be around people with whom you can’t relate, but I’ve never viewed Christmas as one of those times. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone whose family seems consistently perplexed by her decisions. At our core, my parents, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins have uncovered and cultivated commonalities throughout entire generations. So, while at one home we sit quietly listening to recitations of gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free menus, the other is filled with laughter and memories spanning decades. Memories so engaging and relatable even the newest members are warmed by them.
Of course, Mr. insists I’m handling it exactly as he’d want me to (well not exactly, he’d rather we fly somewhere tropical for the entire month of December), but he’s nice and I’m neurotic. So, naturally I figure I’m doing it completely wrong and think I should make more of an effort to enjoy myself and encourage him to do the same at his family festivities. Then, they serve the candied beets and cast judgmental looks as we enjoy a second glass of wine at dinner, and I start looking at plane tickets.