Home for the Holidays Means "Family"
There's this idea that holiday gatherings with loved ones are supposed to be joyful and stress-free. Images of happy families laughing and dining together around a festive table, as in Normal Rockwell's famous 1943 "Freedom from Want," underscores the familial ideas for which so many of us pine. At least this is how the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah holidays are portrayed in magazine ads, television commercials and blogs that bombard us 24/7. Although today's family units are much less cohesive than are portrayed in the media, I would argue that in my life, such happy scenes reflect my reality.
Family relationships can be complicated, but during the holidays, I understand that I need to embrace this time of the year as the season of forgiveness and good will. Although my parents, sisters and brother live in other parts of the country, I understand that in the midst of the hectic holiday commotion, not everyone can pin their hopes of good cheer on the family members with whom they grew up. We all struggle constantly to define what "family" really means to us. It doesn't matter if we're gay, straight, a man or a woman; our contemporary "families" very often don't include blood-relatives.
I've observed that in any community, we tend to create our "families" from our extended networks of personal relations; if we're lucky, we're able to create family rituals that include these extended family members. From the opening of presents, to watching a "Charlie Brown Christmas," or eating a special meal (sometimes even an unexpected breakfast made by a neighbor), when repeated, become our rituals.
If you don't have the Hallmark family, your friends have or the one you've seen in the movies, remember the friends in your life may be your "family." Take the risk of creating holiday rituals with friends or having special holiday visits or phone calls. If an old ritual of yours has been broken by a break-up or death, move on and start a new one.
I find my biggest strengths lie in my ability to acknowledge happiness, goodness and abundance in my life. The cheer I give is always much more rewarding than the cheer I receive. And although I might not have all the pleasures that material success has to offer, I contend that the richness of my life can be measured by the relationships I've experienced through those closest to me during the holidays.
I say, don't worry about how things "should" be. There's a lot of self-imposed cultural pressure during the holidays. When my friends begin to feel overwhelmed during the holidays, I suggest that they check the expectations they've imposed on themselves and try to take them down a notch. The holidays are a joyous and special time of the year and we should be focused on love and good will, not frantic with the pressure of having to have everything done to perfection.
We tend to compare ourselves with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays. But in fact, most people have less than perfect holiday realities-they have family tension, melancholy, loss-and dry turkey, too. If you have negative feelings, don't try to deny them. Remember that there's nothing wrong, shameful, or unusual about feeling down during the holidays. Just remember to breathe.
Joy and true celebration for life arises spontaneously through experience. We all need to give ourselves permission to "experience" our feelings as we maneuver through the holiday season; celebrating, renewing our spirit and understanding at a deeper level the nature of the families we've created. It doesn't matter if you are gay, Lesbian, straight or bi, there's no way to completely avoid the stress of the holidays. Just remember that the holidays are a special time-a time to create memories with your "family." The key is to remember that your time together will be cherished in years to come more than any meal, tradition or gift. I say take a deep breath and indulge.