I joined a friend for dinner last week in Santa Fe. As we ate, she shared just how incredibly stressed she was feeling. She said every Christmas was hard but this year was overwhelming. She was trying to find the right gifts for friends and family, frustrated she hadn’t written any Christmas cards, and worried about how she was going to deal with hot topics around the dinner table: her daughter’s lip piercings, her own divorce, and of course, the election. I could feel the strain and exhaustion in her voice, as she coughed from the cold she was getting.
As I started the long drive home I reflected on my own family as we prepare to gather for our annual Christmas week. No question we disagree about many things. There are country music lovers and those who enjoy rock. Some will watch the Ravens and Steelers game on Sunday; others will say that their definition of hell would be an eternity of NFL. There will be Hillary, Bernie, Trump and Kasich supporters; vegetarians and bacon lovers. The kids will stay up late; the older folks will be up by 6 AM. And yet somehow we always find a way to come together every year.
I’d like to think that proper planning and staying busy are the key to our successful holidays together. I check in ahead of time to find out what everyone would like to have around the house to eat and drink. My dad loves diet coke without caffeine, my mom Perrier in a glass bottle; Kiara is partial to green tea and white wine, while Mekoce drinks coffee and prefers a good IPA. I stock up on organic fruits, nuts/seeds/trail mix and dark chocolate and have them available 24/7. Flannel sheets, candles, fresh towels, water by the bedside, and nightlights around the cabin for late night trips to the bathroom or kitchen to make everyone feel at ease. While my parents take an afternoon siesta the rest of us will go out for a hike. The forest is beautiful, the fresh air and exercise good for all of us. After dinner we’ll play cards or scrabble for hours.
Will controversial topics come up? Of course, our family isn’t that different from anyone else’s. But my Grandma Jesse is steeped into the very marrow of our family. Growing up, when the conversation would get heated, she would quietly ask, “Which is more important: to get along or to be right?” The energy would invariably shift. No one wanted to say, “Well, I need to be right!” She didn’t intend for us not to have opinions, she was just wise enough to know that most folks aren’t going to change their minds about things that are really important to them. And arguing usually just leaves people feeling upset. So, when we’re our family is together, we remind each other through our words and our actions to be tender, to be slow to anger and quick to forgive, and to leave the past, in the past.
As I pulled the car into the snow-laden driveway, I smiled when I saw Jim and the Shepherds come out to greet me. I could see the Christmas tree lights through the cabin window and I felt the fullness of my heart. It was then that I knew that the real reason our family has been able to muddle through the many ins and outs of life: our failings and flaws, the bruising and unintentional wounding, the times of sickness and the pain of death, is the deep and abiding love that we hold for each other and our faith in something bigger than ourselves. For it isn’t the hikes, or scrabble games, the presents or the right food and drink: it is by receiving and living the essence of this Christmas season: the gift of grace and unconditional love.
From our home to yours, wishing you and yours a magical, blessed and peaceful winter holiday.