Originally written for the Huffington Post at Christmastime 2015, this article is for everyone who finds themselves alone this Christmas.
Holidays are traditionally the time when homo sapiens gather in flocks, herds and swarms. It’s deep in the race to cluster at Christmas.
Then there are the rest of us. Alone for Christmas.
Some are geographically distant from those they hold dear and raise a solitary glass to absent friends. Others have lost loved ones to the grave. But for many of us, No Contact is a choice we consciously made because loneliness is less painful than the agony of spending time with our toxic families. Dickensian jollity doesn’t automatically put a one-day Cease-and-Desist on dysfunction. Oftentimes, it seems to exacerbate it.
But let’s face it. This No Contact thing can be pretty shitty, especially at Christmastime. Being in contact was even shittier. Whichever one we choose, shit happens.
Remember back to the B.N.C. (Before No Contact) era? Mmmm, I can see it plainly in my mind’s eye. Tiptoe with me through the snow to peek through my grandparent’s steamy kitchen window. Have you ever seen a more Norman Rockwellian sight?
Grandpa’s standing at the kitchen counter expertly carving the Christmas ham, surreptitiously cramming “nibbles” into his four granddaughters’ mouths with greasy hands. The mouth-watering scents of buttery dinner rolls, candied yams and gravy hangs heavily in the air. Grandma’s there too, bustling thither and yon, anxiously stirring this and tearfully dishing up that.
How I miss it. The warmth of family, cohesive and comforting. Soft hugs from Grandma. The glow of grandfatherly pride in Grandpa’s eyes. Playing games with my cousins. Being tickled unmercifully by my uncle. Admiring my aunt’s jewellery.
Ah, those were the good ol’ days.
Or were they?
The dysfunctional dynamics started well before Christmas, swelled in the car on our way to Grandma’s house, reached a crescendo over the ham and slowly petered out the last week of December as we settled down into our ol’ familiar workaday dysfunction once again.
First, there was the pre-Christmas lecture by mom. Her topic: What we “did know” and, more importantly, what we “didn’t know.” It was all very complicated because fiber optics had nothing on the speed of Grandma’s gossip dissemination. She put the fastest Information Superhighway to shame. She gossiped about her daughter to her son and about her son to her daughter. Grandchildren, in-laws, neighbors, acquaintances and perfect strangers were fair game. No one was immune. She relied on everyone’s discretion to hide her naughty little hobby. It was all very complicated…but make an oopsie at your peril.
Christmas Eve I was sent to bed early so I looked fresh and rested on the great day. After all, a lot was riding on me. My father’s whole reputation rested on my skinny nine-year-old shoulders. I must look rested, refreshed, perfectly groomed and happy so all and sundry knew he was a good daddy, a perfect parent, an excellent educator, a worthy human being.
Then we were off, speeding over the interstate and through the concrete jungle to Grandmother’s house we went. Mother nervously checking her lipstick and running a comb through her hair for the umpteenth time and reminding us yet again of what we did know and what we didn’t know.
Our arrival was heralded with big hugs and awkwardly forced smiles. And then the battle of the brother-in-laws began. Oh, they never acknowledge it in so many words. In fact, Daddy always said he was merely showing my uncle how to be a good parent.
Exhibit A: Me. How I remember being pushed unwillingly to the center of the room, shyly avoiding eye contact, blushing furiously as I acquiesced to my dad’s demands. I recited poetry. Sang songs. Showed off what I’d learned in school.
Naturally, Uncle reciprocated by herding his three daughters into the center of Grandma’s perfectly decorated living room as they lifted their airy, young voices in quavery song. Dad wasn’t impressed. He’d have some choice words to say about their lack of enunciation later.
And that’s when the proverbial shit really hit the proverbial fan. In the car on the way home.
My parents chewed up and spat out the very people they’d fondly hugged goodbye just half an hour before. And in the backseat, their impressionable young daughter was silently taking notes. After all, I never wanted to be “bad” like our loved ones, apparently pathetic life-forms, richly deserving of Dad’s criticism. A million “should’s” and “should not’s” haunt me to this day.
Small wonder then that my dysfunctional family disintegrated when Grandpa died in 2000.
This Christmas, I won’t be enjoying succulent ham, but there’s serenity in my soul. I won’t be dunking garishly decorated Christmas cookies, but I’m also not “Exhibit A.”
Thanks to going No Contact, sure, we may be a little lonely, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
In the words of Clement Moore, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Thanks for reading! If you like what you read, pleas visit my food blog, Reluctant Cook, Cheap Foodie.
It’s not just another food blog. It’s not another travel/food blog. You won’t find any boring recipes. No step-by-step photographs that insult your intelligence. You already work hard at cooking well. What if that same effort (or less!) resulted in even better flavors and textures.
For instance, you can’t possibly get a lump in your Christmas gravy if you use this one simple French technique….!