When I was a little kid, Christmas seemed to last for weeks. Every year, my brother and I celebrated with my paternal grandma and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, then again with my maternal Gramma, my mom, and dad, then again on Christmas morning with just the four of us, then again with my dad’s extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on) and finally, we had Christmas with my paternal grandfather, since my dad’s parents were divorced.
As a child, I was closest to my Gramma, but my only cousins were on my dad’s side. Playing with them was the number one appeal of his family’s Christmas parties. We had a blast, dressing up in our parents’ old prom clothes, piling everyone into a plastic wagon and running down the hallway as fast as we could, trying to quiet the cries of the youngest when they inevitably got hurt. I loved these moments almost more than my Gramma’s over-the-top Christmas gifts. Those celebrations with all of my cousins are some of the holiday memories I cherish the most… but that was over twenty-five years ago.
Things have changed, y’all. I’m married to a man who has his own family and now we have two baby girls. It’s our turn to make memories with our children and I don’t intend to do so while spreading ourselves so impossibly thin over a half dozen family celebrations. More importantly it’s our girls’ turn to make magical Christmas memories. That’s a lot more difficult to do if we’re always leaving parties early to make other parties and mom and dad are stressed out and fighting on the way. I want us all to enjoy the holidays, so as much fun as I had with my weeks of Christmas as a child, a couple of these gatherings just don’t make the cut anymore. So, how do I decide which ones to nix?
I don’t want to talk about my body.
Growing up, I was the fat kid… and with my family, that apparently means that my body is up for discussion for the rest of my life. Having lost around 100 pounds in my early twenties, I’ve kept to a relatively healthy weight since and it is still my family’s favorite subject. Like many people, I put on ten pounds of Pandemic Pudge last year, but uniquely me, I also had twins this year. I cannot stress enough how little I want to talk about my weight six months post-partum with twins. I have spent the entirety of 2021 listening to dehumanizing remarks about my body. I am baffled at how there are so many people who still think this is okay and how I happen to be related to all of them. While the occasional vague compliment is appreciated, I was asked point blank if I had lost all of my baby weight at my girls’ baptism celebration, three months post-partum.
I cannot think of any social interaction I would enjoy less on Christmas day, than one focused on my weight. In fact, as Jake and I pulled out of the neighborhood on the way to our first family party, he asked me what was wrong, noticing I’d gone quiet. I immediately burst into tears, “There are just so many people who are going to be so happy that I’m fat again!” So, when it came time to decide which gatherings to skip, it was the ones that would make me feel the worst about my own body at this sensitive time of life.
I don’t want to discuss Covid-19.
Nearly two years into this pandemic, it seems everyone has been radicalized to one extreme or the other and my family is a microcosm of this effect. At the beginning of the pandemic, I actually missed social media for a brief moment, having been isolated to my own home. That feeling was fleeting, however, when a few family members relayed the drama surrounding the discussions of Covid-19, vaccines, and various mandates that were taking place on Facebook. I’ve been exposed to so many different viewpoints, from one extreme to the other and I’ve come to a simple conclusion: you’re all fucking crazy.
Even the family members who insist they want none of this drama do so by finishing with their own dramatic and polarizing opinions. Well, my mother died of heart problems after a battle with Covid-19 put her on a ventilator for a week, before the vaccine was readily available. I was then diagnosed with heart complications during pregnancy and told by my cardiologist that the vaccine might have played a part. We all have our own complicated feelings to sort through in regards to the pandemic, so how about we all just shut the fuck up about it for one day of the year?!? I chose to attend the Christmas parties where this was likeliest to happen.
I don’t want to spend Christmas with people I don’t particularly like.
As kids, my cousins and I were able to bond over the shared experience of being children at the same time and that was enough. We played with the same toys and watched the same shows and shared the same childlike sense of humor. As adults, I’m willing to admit that we have virtually nothing in common.
I’m neither far left, nor far right, and am uninterested in any discussion of either that’s fueled by feelings over research. Politics are off the table. I cannot fathom the appeal of reality TV, preferring to spend my binges on teenage melodramas, while occasionally branching out toward high fantasy and dated fandoms. Bonding over our favorite shows is a no go. My girls are only six months old, so I’m hesitant to make broad declarations about my future parenting, but I can guarantee that the antagonistic style employed by much of my family is not for me. This means we can’t even really connect as parents. I have little to no desire to gossip about the people who aren’t present, which is their self-proclaimed basis for entire social events, while I have more than one DnD group where we pretend to be sorcerers and paladins. I’m definitely not interested in being a part of anyone’s round robin of apologies after they’ve had too much to drink… again.
It’s not that I don’t love my family. I do. I just don’t particularly like them, en masse. Whereas one-on-one, we might be able to find some common ground, my status as The Weird Smart Cousin is never more apparent than when facing the collective. That’s when my aunts battle it out in Dirty Santa for the ugliest purse/home decor/stemless wine glasses. That’s when my cousin makes a racist/homophobic joke that will surprise my redneck, cowboy, cattle rancher of a husband. That’s when everyone gets drunk and makes fart/sex/rape jokes. It takes a lot of energy to be just the right amount of excluded, so as to not come across as fake or preachy with my family.
Objectively speaking, I get that many people would think my extended family is a blast. I can appreciate that as an outsider aware of social trends. We just don’t really click and that’s fine. They’re not wrong (racism and homophobia excepted) and I’m not wrong. It took me years to come to terms with that, but I have. Truly, our only common ground is shared history and that’s become nearly as distant as our bloodlines. So, I chose to spend my holiday where I felt like I might more easily connect with some of the guests, because some relationships just aren’t worth the effort they take.
If I don’t have the bandwidth for seven Christmas parties, my baby girls really don’t.
Oh, family. It can be so wonderful to spend time in their company, while simultaneously taking so much work. I loathe the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” almost as much as “ambivert.” People aren’t that simple, nor are their needs, and the definition of “ambivert” is to be both an introvert and an extrovert, which literally just makes you human. That being said, I’ve realized in the last few years that while I love the holiday season, the gatherings themselves stress me out. Knowing how little I fit in with my own family, how socially inept both of my parents could be, makes me hyperaware of social interactions. I spend the majority of holiday gatherings worrying that I’ve said the wrong thing, that my parenting is being judged, that someone overheard me snap at the child who just ran past the infant on the floor. It takes a lot of work to talk to that many people, accept that many hugs, watch that many people pass my babies back and forth.
It is, of course, my hope that my girls will never feel this uncomfortable around family when they’re older, but right now they’re babies. They spend the majority of their time at home with mama, broken up by the occasional visit to Great Gramma’s and snuggling with our DnD pals. One day, maybe they’ll look forward to their numerous Christmases as much as I did as a child, but right now, it’s a lot of work for them to be talked to by that many people, accept that many hugs, and be passed between that many humans. It’s a break in a very predictable routine, a lot of stimulation, and a lot of germs, so we chose to skip the largest of the gatherings. After nearly a week, they’re still worn out and one of them is actually sick. When they get older, even with fortified immune systems, those gatherings will still be made up of a lot of names and faces my girls don’t remember, because I barely do. I’d rather spend our energy and time at smaller, more intimate get-togethers.
We’re setting a precedent.
This year, my baby girls’ first Christmas, was the start of many new traditions. We chose our tree and decorated it as a family, hung the stockings I made myself, opened a door on the new advent calendar every evening, read Christmas books, sang Christmas songs, watched Christmas movies, opened gifts fitting the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” theme, wore our Christmas jammy jams and listened to daddy read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.
We also set a precedent for future Christmases, stating quite plainly, that we will not sacrifice the enjoyment of our holiday for perfect attendance at everyone else’s. My girls will not be forced to end their play with their cousins so we can rush off to visit more distant relatives. I will not bake seven different dishes for seven different parties. We will not buy gifts for people we barely know, just because I once shared a great grandparent with them. I will not listen to hateful remarks about my body or heated political arguments for one day of the year. Boundaries are best set firmly and early on and I refuse to make the holiday season something to dread… so I skipped your Christmas party.