Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holidays! Divorce! Recalcitrant Teenagers! Dogs! Ho Ho Ho!

Mrs. Ditter, Do you have any good ideas for how a family can "do the holidays" when everybody keeps being unavailable? We have some extended family and we used to all get together and it was fun.
Now, the extended family is rife with divorce, two mommies and daddies, kids who would rather play their Gameboys than have a conversation or even shut up and read, others who have weird work schedules and work on Christmas Day, etcetera.
The few of us who are not working, not divorced, not rude are in a quandary. I say, "Let's go to the coast!" He says, "Let's not." She says, "That's just as much work." He says, "What about the dogs?" She says, "Mom, we're Jewish." I say, "So skip the holidays." He says nothing. She says, "Well...."
I say, "I'll ask Mrs. Ditter." -- Anonymo

Dear Anonymous: Ugh. You're in that spot where none of us want to be, but most of us arrive: It's not as much fun as it used to be and WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO CHANGE, ANYWAY? It will never be that same way again, and that's the cold truth. 
So before I trot out any trite ideas about making your own holidays (all of which you will have thought of and quite possibly rejected), I strongly suggest that you take a moment, an hour, a day if you need to, to mourn the death of your family holiday tradition. I don't care if you write a journal entry about it, go for a long hike and rant and rave, sit in the tub and cry, shut yourself in your room and pray, or write the words "Family Holiday Traditions Before It All Went to Hell in a Handbasket" on a log and burn it in the fireplace, chanting long strings of swear words under your breath as the smoke goes up the chimney. The point is, do something to acknowledge to yourself on a deep level that something you really enjoyed and valued is gone.
Okay, with that out of the way, you can move on to making new holiday traditions. I'm interpreting your question to mean you want to do something with your extended family, not the immediate family with whom you live.
One way to do this is to throw a party, invite everyone, and have a good time with whomever shows up. They may be surly and constantly connected to their Gameboys/texting/iPods (oh, those wacky preteens!); they may be anxious about running into an ex-spouse; they may be just as sad as you are at the changes that time have wrought. But if you give people the opportunity to gather, they just might.
Or: Throw a game night. Really. It's fun.
Or: Reserve some lanes at a bowling alley and let everyone know.
You could also send around an email asking everyone to join you in serving a meal at one of the local homeless shelters. Or meet up with you at a local bookstore. Or join you at church/temple/movie theater. Or for a hike. 
And finally, your word choice "...everybody keeps being unavailable" is kind of interesting. Maybe the unavailables just don't want to participate. Honor that. Invite them, but don't try to guilt them, which will just drive them further away.
Now, if I've misread your question, and you're just wanting to "do the holidays" with your immediate family, the door is open even wider. Grab a big old piece of paper and over the course of the next week, have everyone write down a few things they'd like to do as a family. Then do some of those things! You may find yourself on a day trip to the coast, or helping out at the Humane Society for a few hours, or roaming around a bookstore for several hours, or at an art museum, or skiing for a day. One or two of the activities will probably score high enough that you'll repeat them next year.
And if it were me? I'd stay home, stock the fridge, make some cookies, light a fire, get a huge honkin' pile of books, and then curl up with the books, the dog, the cats, whoever of the family wanted to join me, maybe some cheesy old movies...and I would just relax. That's as good a tradition as any.
What do you think, folks? Any suggestions? 
Anonymous, please let me know what your family ends up doing.
And, as always, if you have a question, leave it in the comments section.


  1. Brilliant, Mrs. Ditters. All of your suggestions were simple and brilliant.

  2. Thank you...I hope your holiday goes well. Let me know if you find a good new tradition or two.