Have a safe dysfunctional obligation activity

This year I am once again grateful for my family’s behavior at holiday times. I grew up agnostic, so there was never any religious pressure. Christmas was a gift exchange and a couple of nice meals, and it still is. The most frequent verb I see this week is “survive”, as in “surviving the holidays” or “survived my family again”. There’s tremendous stress about food, gifts, the presence of difficult relatives, and every kind of parent/child conflict. People don’t eat the food their parents eat any more, or the gifts are too much or not enough money, or the gifts have been a form of warfare for 20 years, or Uncle Ted is a racist, or Dad always asks the boyfriend if he’s going to be anybody ever, or or or.

And more seriously some people I know go into a major PTSD mode during the “holidays” because their childhoods were so gothically horrible that memories of family togetherness are a symptom rather than a pleasant reverie.

It’s a big joke in our culture that holidays are a stressful mess and that everyone is miserable and drunk, etc. “Surviving the holidays” in every way is the goal. It’s linked in my mind with the “Safe” thing, e.g. “Have a safe holiday!”. It’s sort of assumed that you’ll hate the whole thing, drink like a fish and pop pills, and die in a 7-car pileup on some snowy turnpike, thereby causing what the newspapers inaccurately call a “tragedy”.

My family’s troubles are constant, ongoing, and subtle. We don’t have screaming matches or drunken rampages, no one hits anyone, and we don’t say nuclear weapon phrases like “I don’t love you”. We may undermine for years at a time, or be unreasonably irritable, or fail to connect in some dispiriting way. There are conflicts and painful situations that aren’t allowed to be mentioned or discussed.

But we don’t have “holiday” stress. Despite all my complaints about my psyche and my issues, I’m very grateful for my family 99% of the time. My heart goes out to everyone who has to Survive instead of relaxing around now.

3 thoughts on “Have a safe dysfunctional obligation activity

  1. This Christmas I thought a lot about how difficult this season is for so many people. Both for the reasons you list above, as well as for people who are mourning (obviously this comes from thinking about the recent passing of my grandma), and for people whose relationships ended this year, or who don’t have custody of their kids, or who have lost their jobs, and so on.
    I wish Christmas were more optional.
    A couple of years ago I was in grad school and had about 17 dollars in my bank account to buy Christmas gifts with. I left the mall frustrated and in tears twice that year, realizing that without money, I was completely shut out of Christmas. We used to go to church, but don’t any more, and I felt the loss of that deeply. Without church and without money, Christmas felt completely frustrating and empty.


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