Christmas has always been a challenging holiday for me. Being a kid with divorced parents and a set of divorced grandparents, Christmas day was a nauseating whirlwind of family gatherings. I say nauseating because I was expected to eat a full plate of food at every party – and here in the south, it is an insult to someone’s cooking if you don’t go back for seconds.
Do you remember that scene in Matilda where Mrs. Trunchbull forces Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire chocolate cake? Yeah, I was Bruce – fat, sweaty and miserably full.
We’d start Christmas morning with my mom, dad, brother and grandma. (Yes, my parents were divorced. Yes, we did Christmas morning together. I’ve always thought that was very cool of them.) We’d have a huge, rich, filling breakfast and open presents together as a weird disjointed little unit… it was nice.
And then the chaos would ensue.
We’d truck all our new goodies to our rooms, wave goodbye to dad and grandma, and ride off to my gramps’ house for Christmas lunch. We’d eat. I’d hide in the stairwell with my cousin and avoid small talk with grown ups. Eventually, my step-grandmother would pinch me by the collar bone to tell me I was too skinny and usher me back into the dining room for seconds.
Then my brother and I would be whisked away to my dad’s side of the family for Christmas dinner. We’d eat again. I’d tuck myself next to my grandma and avoid as much small talk as I could and eventually my aunt would insist that I eat more.
I’d get home from dinner and my mom would throw me back in the car to catch the tail end of her step-sisters huge Christmas party where I’d be ushered into the dining room to eat up the last of the food.
So you see, I have a personal sympathy for Bruce from Matilda. It was exhausting and miserable. I cherished our Christmas mornings but the rest of the day was a nightmare.
Fast forward. I got married. I was newly attached to a family unit that I deeply struggled to become a part of. I’ll keep it simple here and just say things got worse. So. Much. Worse.
And finally, que the separation. Last Christmas was truly the worst Christmas of my life. At the time I was desperately hoping our marriage would survive and become healthy, but honestly, I knew what was coming. Additionally, my husband thought it would be a good idea to tell his family that I don’t like them (literally, who does that?) – and in response, they packed up their things and went to Florida for the holiday to avoid having to see me entirely. So that left us with my family… Some of my family members didn’t know how to handle the news of the separation, word spread like wildfire and I quickly felt like the giant pink elephant that no one knew how to address was ME! If you can believe it, it got even worse but I’ll spare you the gory details. I’m actually pretty traumatized by the whole thing. It was just so bad.
And now. Finally. I’m here. I’m on my own. I have no obligations to in-laws and I’m a full blown adult. Which means I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I intend to set boundaries and protect my time and my energy. All I want is a Christmas that is actually joyful to me. I want a sweet and simple holiday. I suspect that wont happen for me this year – I’m still too close to all of the hurt and the pain. It’s likely going to be an emotionally intense day for me, processing the betrayal and the loss – but eventually I would really like to reclaim a Christmas for myself.