Bumpy Holidays

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

November and December bring a variety of holiday festivities featuring food laden tables shared with family and friends. Hallmark paints a pretty picture of delight, but it isn’t all Norman Rockwell with smiling faces and the perfectly browned bird.

How do we gather this year after two years of distance, disorientation, and grief? How do we do it with grace and peace?

Even before COVID, holiday gatherings could feel like the bumper car ride at Valleyfair, a sense of excitement tinged with terror! For instance, there is the cantankerous uncle who aims his car right for mine. He still thinks I’m a volatile child that he can infuriate with a few pokes—only now the pokes are verbal. There is the sister who wants to be seen in the brightest of all bumper cars and the cousin who wants to cower in the corner waiting for someone to rescue him. Nieces and nephews bring new partners who circle the perimeter quietly watching while others jump onto the track with abandon. Excited children rev their cars and crash into whoever is in their way!

I eagerly bump into the friend I haven’t seen in way too long. I give her a gentle push inviting her to meander along with me, recounting a year’s stories. Another friend sidles up to me and wants to tell me about the latest drama in his life, pushing my car to the wall while holding me hostage. With good maneuvering I can dodge the family gossip who comes at me with all the tales I don’t care to hear.

As I merrily find my cruising speed, I collide with a holiday acquaintance after I just opined on the recent scandal at city hall, not aware that her brother was part of the commotion.

Buckle your seat belts, here come the holidays!

When connecting is difficult, I try to remember that the children are watching.We all come to the feast with a holiday history we want to remember and repeat—feeling loved, cherished, and welcome—or want to avoid—a drunken diatribe, a political explosion, a passive aggressive slice. To all this we add the current infectious political polarization and our universal longing for belonging.

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How do we remake expectations and enter with a calm presence? What can I bring to my holiday table this year besides the mashed potatoes, extra thick bumpers, and a playbook of past events?

Winston Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Here are a few attitudes I plan to pack along:

  • Curiosity. A lot has happened in my life in the last year. No doubt that is true for many of my fellow guests. I will start with being curious about where they are at, how they got here, and what the world looks like from their point of view. Even if I think I know already, I can listen for how and why they may see things differently from me. I can invite them to share their stories of the last year. “What has been engaging you this year?” Perhaps they might elaborate. “Say more.” I can ask open-ended questions. “How was that for you?” “How are you feeling about that now?” I can invite them to share more by imagining how I might feel in that circumstance. “If that were me, I would feel lonely or sad or euphoric. I wonder how you feel.” I know there are people who think they know how I feel on a given topic and don’t allow for how I might have changed or moderated or supplemented my original position. Might that not be true for them as well? One of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits is to seek first to understand before being understood. Being curious will help me with that.
  • Congeniality. I can play well with others. I don’t have to race in with my bumper car and make sure I am seen and heard. Neither do I need to park my car in the corner and wait for people to come to me. I can be a welcoming host or an appreciative guest, eschewing treacherous topics and engaging with a variety of people. Humor is a great antidote to holiday stress as long as it is tempered with kindness. Self-deprecating humor might be the best. I told my children when they were young, “If it isn’t funny to everyone, it isn’t funny.” Humor at someone else’s expense isn’t funny. That goes for those not in attendance as well. I will attempt to connect even with those I don’t really want to be with. I don’t have to see these people for another year, probably. Enjoy what I can. There is a lot of space between a cold shoulder and a warm hug. The best of me might bring out the best in them. When connecting is difficult, I try to remember that the children are watching. How do I want them to connect when they grow up and have their own lives and families. We are always teaching. Do I want to teach that ignoring, sabotaging, cutting off is okay? Or do I want them to work out their differences with respect and decency?
  • Courage. I will bring my full loving and kind self with courage and a confidence in who I know myself to be—along with a humility that knows I don’t know everything. Here I come careful, compassionate, and considerate. When I ram into someone’s bumper car unaware, I apologize, I even get out of my car and ask for a seat in theirs.
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To paraphrase Dickens, holidays can be “the best of times and the worst of times.” I want to do what I can to ensure I am neither the holiday Grinch nor the Evil Knievel of the holiday roadway. May your holidays be a time of peace and joy and perhaps a crash course in surviving in a civilized world respectful of all.

Mary Lou Logsdon is a spiritual director and retreat leader in the Twin Cities. She can be reached at logsdon.marylou@gmail.com.

Last Updated on November 7, 2022

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