It’s the most wonderful time of the year…kinda. As Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, it’s time to face the same dilemma I’ve faced the last few years. I’ll admit up front, it isn’t the end of the world. Most people will tell me I’m being a big baby and that I need to grow up and face reality. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m sick of going to gargantuan family gatherings where I see people for the first (and last) time all year and am expected to exchange gifts with cousins who I’ve long since lost touch with.
When I was a kid, going to Thanksgiving or Christmas at Grandpa’s house was a blast. We played with the cousins, had our own table while the grownups did their thing, and got to exchange a gift with another cousin after names had been drawn. Of course, our parents bought these gifts and it was just another reason to get one more present. But now, things are much, much, different.
Now, as many as fifty-plus people can show up to my grandparents. There are literally six or seven (or more) tables spread throughout their large home – in bedrooms, the basement, the kitchen, dining room, etc. My wife and I are paired off with the cousins and their spouses whom I usually manage to see once or twice a year. They’re nice people, but it’s not the intimate, enjoyable setting I’d like to think the holidays are all about. Part of the problem is my personality; I’m just not a big group kind of guy. I enjoy smaller settings with just a handful of people.
In some ways, the annual Christmas eve gathering is worse. Not only am I expected to exchange a gift with cousins who have moved out of state with spouses I’ve met once or twice, but my own children are expected to exchange gifts with one of their children. It’s not uncommon to draw a name and wonder "Who the heck is this?" only to find out from my mother that my cousin had another baby I didn’t even know about. But apparently, I’m buying the kid a present when I struggle to buy my own kids everything I’d like to get them.
Of course, when I mention to my mom that maybe we just ought to do our own thing I hear the same argument: It means a lot to Grandpa and Grandma and they won’t be with us forever. The guilt keeps me coming; the last thing I’d want is to hurt them. But when these holidays are one of my few days off work and school to share with my own family, I’d like to at least be able to sit with my kids at Thanksgiving (they’re sent away to another room and another table somewhere). Here’s my question: Where does the obligation lie? Is it my job to suck it up and do this with a smile on my face for grandparents who have been there for me and loved me throughout my life? Or is it their responsibility to realize we all have our own families now, and that perhaps it’s time to shake the normal traditions up a bit – even if not eliminating the large gatherings entirely?