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’Tis the Season, Again

The Holidays Are Here and So Is the Family


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Yes, Virginia, it’s that time of year, and whether you’re warbling “White Christmas” or humbugging like Scrooge, there’s no escaping it. (Well, actually, that’s not completely true. My friend Bob calls Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s the Bermuda Triangle and simply disappears for the duration. Hmm. Food for thought.)

Marilyn Gillard

Traditionally, it’s a time for family, and most of us have plenty, some of whom we’re actually related to by blood. Seems the longer we live, the more kin in the clan — parents and siblings, in-laws and kids, grandchildren, stepchildren, new wives, and old flames. Used to be, you had one crazy aunt who looked like she had put lipstick on with her elbows. Now, there are more fruitcakes sipping eggnog than wrapped under the tree. It’s a dizzying array, this collection of characters, and each year brings fresh permutations. (Oh look, sis, both mom and dad brought their new boyfriends!)

Togetherness is not for the faint of heart. Survival guides with titles like The Dysfunctional Family Funbook and When In-laws Become Outlaws start popping up right about now. Like Halloween for dentists, the holidays are a good time for therapists — there’s a conga line of kinfolk snaking through our lives, and the people pushing our buttons are the ones who put them there in the first place. No wonder some of us are overeating, overspending, and drinking heavily. And that’s before the guests arrive.

We all have our own ways of coping. The Martha Stewarts among us take their decorating seriously, elevating it to high art. They have the perfect tree, the handmade wreaths, and the homemade cookies in the shape of elves. I admire and envy those people. My husband, on the other hand, goes out to the yard and plugs in the same sad string of lights that are still stapled to the pickets from last Xmas. Sometimes they actually light up briefly before shorting out in a shower of sparks. It can be quite magical.

Then there’s the shopping. Do we really desperately need that new phone/tablet/laptop/game station/listening thingy device anyway? For a generation once known for its spiritual values, we have become the ultimate consumers. And now, we have even more people to buy for. According to an ABC report, this new crop of baby-boomer grandparents are “spending a collective total of $35 billion a year on their grandkids.” (Whoa — somebody’s getting a pony! With a jockey and everything.)

Some of us celebrate the holidays by cooking. As our families expand, so do our waists. Nowadays, we mix and match cultures with their own set of traditions, serving tamales and latkes with equal alacrity. There are turkeys and ducks, Cornish hens and fat geese (December is not a good month to be wearing feathers) alongside the meatloaf that is made out of soy. ’Tis the season for feasting and fat pants and Tums.

At our house, we’ve considered a turnstile. Between Christmas and Hanukkah (not Chrismukkah, which is the equal-opportunity way of insulting both), New Year’s and school break, there’s a lot of traffic around here. Throw in the fact that we live in Santa Barbara, and we’ll soon qualify for our own page in TripAdvisor. Air mattresses inflate at alarming rates, along with our grocery bills and restaurant tabs. The lights and laundry are doing overtime, and Edison’s stock rises with each guest. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Christmas morning, the gifts will be unwrapped and admired and returned. The camera once again will be out of batteries. Someone will drop a glass into the pancake mix. And then we’ll gather as a family and observe our very own long-standing holiday tradition: bowling at Zodo’s with the people we love.

If this time of year is not for you, then take heart: The good news is that it’s going to be 365 days until this all rolls around again. The bad news is that we’re all living longer … so most of us will be back.

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