I married into a very large extended family when I was 19. Suddenly, my holidays went from lazy days with my few family members to a 24 hour marathon test of social skills. At least 3 generations – we’ll call them the Grands, the Grown ups, and the Kids. At the start, it worked well, because there were only the three generations. Grands had one grand-kid at least, Grown ups were over 18, and kids were under 18. However, as the family grew, and generations were added, they didn’t reconfigure the system. This is yet another reason why people should examine “Tradition” and adjust it as needed.
Christmas Eve –
Everyone would gather at one family member’s house for a formal dinner in the evening. Because there were so many people, and it was a small house, card tables with 4 chairs each were set up through the living room, which required a sideways shuffle-slide with your arms over your head to get to your place – which was noted usually with a tiny handwritten place card. Grands and select Grownups would sit at the main table – a standard dinette for 8. They’d crowd in as many chairs around it as they could, putting in every leaf that would fit to extend it. The trouble was the table filled the dining room, which was walled on 3 sides and open to the living room on the 4th. people would sit down and shuffle around to get to the back of the table. The remaining Grownups and Kids sat around card tables, and each year, the fit more and more card tables through the living room, and eventually into the foyer/entry. Before dinner, we’d gather in the den, then like she was working a plastic number puzzle, she’d call out names and seat people at the head table, leading them from the den through the tiny kitchen to fill their plates, then into the dining area – single file. The tight quarters of the head table were made even more fun with the walkers and canes required. Then the card tables were filled in. It was whispered among the older kids that your location at the card tables denoted some sort of “naughty/nice” list – the closer you were to the dining room, the better your status that year.
After dinner, the card tables were cleared, and the Grands and Grownups were seated around the living room while the Kids were coerced into singing christmas songs around the grand piano. They would belt out song after song in multi-part harmony with full piano accompaniments while the audience talked amongst themselves, usually loudly. Eventually, the kids would beg out – retiring to somewhere else to find alcohol and debrief (complain) about holidays with family. You could count on getting to bed no sooner than 2AM.
Breakfast started at another house bright and early at 6AM christmas morning and consisted of an assortments of candies and cookies. We’d crowd everyone in standing room only, then pass out a round of presents. This began a progressive event of food and gifts and family that carried through until Christmas evening. The second stop was a full christmas dinner, where the Grownups and Grands sat around the huge table in the dining room, while the kids got the dinette in the kitchen. Again, a great plan when the family was small, but 3 generations of kids don’t do well with a small dinette for 6. The last stop was another family members house for dessert, again standing room only.
While the presents were amazing – no complaints there – 24 hour marathon events are tough on anyone. Eventually, the older kids with families started spending holidays other places. This caused some resentment and hurt feelings and misunderstandings. The traditions eventually changed as the older generations passed on. I have happy memories of those times but it brings up the question: why is tradition so important. Why are we so stuck in doing things the way they’ve been done, sometimes even when it isn’t working?
It’s a blessing and a curse for me to not have any holiday traditions. On the one hand, I miss the comfort of consistency, stability, family, and someone else doing the dishes. But my holidays are drama free, stress free, and expectation free. It’s lonely, but it’s easier to be lonely than miserable. Autism changes everything. It doesn’t care about traditions or relationships or expectations. The more I learn to be present and open, the happier I seem to be.