Sunday, November 23, 2014

Holiday Struggles

"But our family always celebrates on Christmas Eve," Ann insisted. "That’s the way we’ve always done it." She explained that her three siblings, who lived in different cities, had already made travel plans. "And Christmas is the only time I get to see my baby brother because he lives so far away from us."

Curtis shook his head. "That’s the problem. Christmas Eve is when my family does our big celebration. Our tradition goes back to the time when my grandfather was a boy during the Great Depression. . ." For perhaps a minute he explained the plans his side of the family had already made to come together.

"We don’t know what to do," Ann said. The couple had married six months earlier when Christmas was far from their thoughts. "Everything else in our lives seems settled except this."  

At the time, I was their pastor and I had heard the story before. How could they possibly please both sides of the family? Neither of them thought about the family conflict until the middle of November.

"Now what are we going to do?" Curtis said. "I don’t want to hurt my parents and Ann doesn’t want to disappoint hers." As he explained, both families planned a big meal and celebration on Christmas Eve. The one factor that differed was that Ann’s family met at 5:30 and Curtis’s didn’t start until 7:00.

They resolved the immediate crisis by going to Ann’s family, eating a big dinner and leaving a few minutes after seven. They arrived late for Curtis’s family gathering. They groaned over having to eat two huge meals.

"We’ve got to do something different next year," Ann said.

"Yeah, I wish we’d thought about it before." They decided to talk to both families to see if they could figure out something so they wouldn’t get caught in such a bind the next year.

Just before they left, Curtis asked me, "Did you ever have that problem in your family?"

I smiled because we hadn’t encountered that problem. By the time our children reached the marriage stage, I figured out that the holy season was a time of good cheer and happiness but it could also become a time of stress, especially when it came to family traditions.

After our oldest child, Wanda, married, we told her and her siblings that we had made one decision about observing the holiday period. "Go to your in-laws first. Honor their tradition. We’ll take the left-over time."

By the time all three of our children married, it gave them hassle-free permission to take care of their in-law obligations first. For us, it meant that some years we’ve celebrated Christmas three days early or two days late.

A few times I felt lonely on Christmas Day, wishing we had gotten together as we had when they were children. I reminded myself, "Nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born. So does a specific day on the calendar make a difference?" Even without that reminder, I knew we had done the right thing because it avoided forcing our children to decide which side of the family to please. That decision has worked for thirty plus years.

Sometimes I do things right. That was one of those times.

by Cecil Murphey

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