Wednesday, December 10, 2008

There's (Definitely) No Place Like Home for the Holidays

'Tis the season for family, friends and fellowship--at least that's what countless movies, books and TV shows have told us. Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol wants nothing more than to be left alone, yet he is bullied by three spirits who force him to see the joy of family and friends. Songs extol the virtues of being home for the holidays, and the message is implicit everywhere—lots of people: good. Solitude: bad.

As I grow older, I find myself becoming more and more Scrooge-like. I no longer enjoy the hustle and bustle of Christmas, and I would rather have a root canal, a mammogram and a colonoscopy all on the same day than go to a mall at Christmas-time. Hell, I'd even forego the anesthesia!

The family I grew up in is not close, although my parents are under the illusion that we are. I'm quite a bit younger than my three older sisters so in a lot of ways I am the only child of my parents' second family. My three sisters and my parents share experiences that I only know of through stories—memories of a life together with routines and traditions all established before I was born. They all remember the babysitter who took care of my sisters for years before I was born; they remember the houses, the towns, and the schools.

By the time I came along, my family had moved to a new town, I had a new baby sitter, and we had a new life, very different from the one my family lived before I was born. As I grew up, I was still the one left out, the one who was too young to go along with the big kids, the baby of the family, and, I admit, the spoiled brat. I've always felt different from my sisters. One of them told me one time that she thought I set myself apart from them, and maybe I did. Still, during the rare times when our family gets together, it is hard for me to feel a part of things when they start laughing and talking about life before I was born. They all have a history, one of which I am not a part.

After Bill and I got married and the girls were born, we spent four years in upstate New York, isolated from our parents and family. Oh sure, they came to visit us, but never on holidays, so Bill, the girls and I formed our own family traditions. Lo and behold, when we moved back to Texas, we found that we really enjoyed the rituals we had developed, and we liked having holidays to ourselves. This desire to be alone has become even stronger as the demands on our time have increased—we have so little time to ourselves that when we do have a rare day off, the last thing we want to do is spend it with other people.

So here's to all the people out there who like keeping to themselves at the holidays. You're not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you and there is no law that says you have to visit family at Christmas. If the prospect of doing so does not fill you with joy, then stay home and curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. You'll find your holidays are much less stressful if you do.

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