When my husband was growing up, he lived a thousand miles from his cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. A family of eight does not travel well over that kind of distance, so generally they spent their holidays as a nuclear family, in their own home, by themselves, and they developed strong traditions around that structure.
When I was growing up, both my parents’ families tried to get together for one or the other of the big winter holidays, usually no more than two hours from our house. A family of six can’t travel well over large distances, either, but two hours is entirely doable. Thus, I grew up looking forward with all my might to extended family gatherings around the holidays. (Cousins rock, people. Right there’s a reason to have large(r) families.)
I always found the idea of a holiday spent at home, with nothing but your own family, incredibly depressing. To me, that’s sort of the point of the holiday: a break from the same people and surroundings you inhabit every day. I have always viewed a holiday spent with just us as the height of all that is depressing in the universe.
But this year, family circumstances are such that we spent Thanksgiving at home, by ourselves. My sister and her family joined us for Friday afternoon and evening, but outside of that, we were home alone from Wednesday through this morning.
And I am converted.
It was so relaxing. Our family is on the go All.The.Time. Having a super-long, unstructured weekend was a rare gift. It felt like a deep breath and a long, slow, relaxing exhale. I got to go to Mass and do Jazzercise on Thanksgiving morning, prepare a moderate Thanksgiving dinner (one vegetable, one starch, well, okay, two, but stuffing doesn’t count), eat it on my family’s schedule. We Skyped with a couple of family members, the kids played downstairs, and Christian and I pulled together some of what we needed to organize about our lives in the coming weeks. We’ve done most of our Christmas shopping already, so we waved off shopping entirely–Christian had to get an extension cord, and I needed to grocery shop, but both of us timed the outings to avoid the feeding frenzy. We took the kids to Chuck E Cheese on Saturday afternoon. We didn’t even have to play at church on Sunday, so we went to our old stomping grounds for late Mass in the gap between Michael’s naps.
At the end of this interval, the kids are sick of each other’s company, and everyone’s chomping at the bit to return to the routine. Especially me. But I loved this Thanksgiving, and I hope we have more like it in the years to come.
There’s a lesson in this, if I can only figure out how to apply it more widely. More is not better, or richer, or more fulfilling. Less is not barren; a smattering of activity, strung jewel-like along a weekend, is beautiful; crowding ten times as many “jewels” into the same stretch of “rope” just looks gaudy and overwhelming.
Nothing surprising in that paragraph. But it’s nice to know it applies to holidays, too.