Note: If you love Christmas and family gatherings, please don’t read this ranty post of mine.
I don’t enjoy big family gatherings. I find the whole shamozzle stressful. Who is hosting? Who is invited? Who is bringing what? If you host, there’s the clean up before and after the event. Not to mention the costs involved.
You’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s only once a year, surely I can just cop it for a day. Well, add in dysfunctional family members, readily consumed alcohol, the undercurrent of unresolved family matters, mismatched personalities, eccentric and dementia-prone oldies, and you have the perfect storm for a catastrophic Christmas gathering. And if by chance, it doesn’t fall into utter chaos, the anxiety suffered from the anticipation is enough to make one keel over.
Maybe it all stems from my childhood. I never enjoyed being dragged by my parents to attend our big family gatherings. Other than a few cousins that I played with, those gatherings were just an excuse for relatives to boast about their new cars, (mediocre) salaries and children’s academic achievements. Aunties would readily dish backhanded compliments to each other and drunk uncles would argue over who disrespected who. All under the watchful eyes of a cold matriarch and a distant patriarch.
By the time I reached adulthood, I had stood my ground and refused to return to the dysfunctional bosom of my extended family. I gave them all the cut. At eighteen, I decided that I didn’t need an extended family or their negativity. If my parents wanted to belong to that brand of crazies then so be it.
When I got married, there were occasions when we simply opted to go away somewhere to avoid the pressure of family gatherings. Now that I have children, it’s no longer about my wants or me. It’s about giving the children the opportunity to experience Christmas with extended family, opening presents, catching up with uncles that they don’t see often and being merry. So while it is a chore and I prefer to avoid family gatherings, I make the effort for my children. I go willingly (more like unwillingly) and I keep my grumblings predominantly to myself (and the husband).
This last Christmas, we celebrated with my parents, my brother and his fiancé. It was a small lunch affair. Between my brother and I, we organised that I would bring sides and he would cook the roasts. We agreed that my parents would have no involvement in the meal preparations. Their only task was to tidy up the house and tiny backyard.
Let me back up a bit. My parents are hoarders. My dad has at least three of everything and crams it all into his small townhouse. The garage is chock full with secondhand market goods that were ‘too cheap to pass up’. The bed in his room is cluttered with large speakers and electronic junk. There are fish tanks everywhere! Two large ones in the loungeroom, three in the dining area, one in the backyard. My mum, while not as bad, loves planting orchids. The backyard is a jungle. Nothing makes sense in their house. The kids love going there because it’s like going to a two-dollar store, jammed full of goodies to see and touch. Every time my daughter goes there, she gets a plastic bag and collects random trinkets and junk to bring home. My son just loves to feed the fish and dogs.
So on Christmas Day, we drove over with a potato salad, green salad, coleslaw and a sponge. The minute I entered, my dad proudly told me he spent hours cleaning the backyard so we could have the BBQ. He managed to clear his jungle to create a small seating space. My first questions were… What’s with the nesting pigeon and her babies doing perched underneath the café umbrella? And what BBQ, aren’t we doing roasts?
My brother was on a rant rampage on how my mum had ruined his roast chicken and roast pork. Evidently, she didn’t believe he could cook, so she took it upon herself to stuff the chicken with a pork mince mixture (instead of stuffing) and marinated it with some kind of weird mint (only herbs she had). She boiled the pork belly and shoved both the chicken and pork roasts into the oven with no regard to temperature or timing.
My dad and his hard-of-hearing-ears-while-semi-drunk, had the radio blaring so little conversation could be had. My mum decided that feeding the kids cheese bread an hour before lunch was a good idea (there is no stopping my stubborn mother without a fight). There were prawns being barbecued on a tiny contraption, making my seafood hating husband and children barf.
By the time my brother’s fiancé had arrived, my brother and I had begun a heated debate on euthanasia of the family pets (I blame the stress of the day). We immediately put our best faces on (new fiancé didn’t need to see our crazy) and had a relatively calm afternoon with the children opening their Christmas presents. Of course, my dad took out every camera and video recording device he owned to capture the moment. And like every other occasion, the photos will be blurry and off-centre or he’ll have forgotten to press record on his devices.
The kids were too full on bread to eat lunch but really, who could blame them for not wanting to sit with us while the creepy pigeon and its offspring watched from above.
Folks, the best part of Christmas… whimsical enjoyment by the children. Is it really worth it?
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