Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What a difference a holiday makes

Holidays growing up when we’d visit my extended family were almost always full of a boisterous crowd of lots of aunts and uncles and cousins.

My mom is one of eight and all of her siblings have had children so you can probably do the math. Our attendance at holiday gatherings pushes past 40 and is rapidly approaching 50 as the cousins keep adding boyfriends, girlfriends, and children, to the crazy mix. So that’s what I’m used to.

Then I met my husband. He’s got little pockets of family scattered across five states, but in terms of holiday get togethers we reliably draw a crowd of 10 to 12 people. We get to stay here in town with an easy commute over to Keller to celebrate. Contributing to the family dinner is easy because the proportions are normal. It’s not hard to figure out how many sides are needed for less than a dozen people.

When we were dating and decided we were serious about each other we started traveling for holidays. One year is Thanksgiving at home with his family and Christmas in Kansas with my family and the next year we swap. It’s worked well so far, now past our fourth year of the rotation. That’s not to say there weren’t hiccups along the way. Neither set of parents loves the off-year Christmas and adjusting to the traditions of a new family can be tough.

But this year in particular I was struck with amusement at the difference in how we celebrate.

Thanksgiving with his family was six adults and one baby. We all fit at one table. We even had to remove chairs from my in-laws’ dining rooom table because there were extra. We had fun at a quiet decibel level. We all could have a conversation together at one time.

Flash forward a month and we’re at my parents' house for Christmas. All the furniture has been pushed back against the walls in my parents', thankfully, sizeable family room. Three folding tables are set for the buffett. Folding chairs appeared alongside casserole dishes of appetizers or desserts. For four hours or so the volume rose and rose as about 45 people gathered. Added to the mix of 15 aunts and uncles and 18 first cousins (plus five spouses of the older cousins), there were two new girlfriends, two new boyfriends, a newborn and a baby due in February. In other words the typical expanding of a large family that puts great emphasis on the importance of family.

I did notice some changes this year though. I remember searching the crowd at my husband’s  first Christmas with my family only to see him sitting wide eyed and quiet in the corner unsure of names or what to do with all these people when I’d been pulled away to help with something or another. I can get overwhelmed by it myself and I've been around them all my life so I couldn't blame him. This Christmas though we got separated several times and each time I’d scan the crowd for him he was busy chatting with an uncle or cousin looking totally at ease.

I’m thrilled that between our two families we can experience both versions of the holidays even if it occassionally makes us feel like extras in some holiday movie where the girl meets the boy’s family and chaos ensues from culture shock.

As we begin to turn our attention toward what we’re establishing as routines for our family going forward it’s nice to be able to choose among the gamut of holiday experiences. How have you created your own independent holiday routine while still honoring your family’s traditions?

Jennifer Erickson is a Senior Public Relations Specialist for Texas Health Resources.

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