This post is part of the series “Christmas at My House.” Reflections on the wide-diversity of Christmas experiences
It is Christmastime, the time of year we are inundated with opportunities to overindulge and be left with unmet expectations. Advertisers, book illustrators, songwriters…everyone tasked with a vocation to influence the social narrative perpetuate and have us believe in the magic of Christmas. Growing up, my family was like everyone else’s family: dysfunctional. And added to the everyday realities of what it meant to be family in the 20th century, we were also experiencing the realities of oppressed and oppressive circumstances like underemployment, addiction, illness, and discrimination. Even in the midst of the oppression and dysfunction, my family tried to approach the holidays in typical ways: potlucks, dinners, and church services. In order to catch a glimpse of the Christmas that Charlie Brown was excited to see, those of us who could stand it, who made it, found a game or a corner or an extra helping of food to sink into.
“We forced ourselves to engage with people and in circumstances that produced anxiety and robbed us of our joy and called it family time…”
You tolerate the rude uncle, the abusive cousin, or the drunk parent–or you are that rude uncle, the abusive cousin or the drunk parent. As a family, we learned to force ourselves to engage with people and in circumstances that produced anxiety and robbed us of our joy and called it family time. For those of us who are marginalized, or whose lives are influenced by poverty, illness or trauma, you know that within such oppressive and restrictive circumstances, the holidays may not always be a time of merriment and glee. Here are 3 examples of how oppressive circumstances influenced my experience of Christmas and, although these stories are tragic in nature, they helped to shape why and how I celebrate Christmas differently now that I am older:
1. Christmas presents sold for drug money or food stamps
Imagine the joy that bursts through your chest as you see shiney packages with your name on them! You dream of ripping through the paper, tape, cardboard–everything that is keeping you from what’s inside their boxes. That game you wanted, the jacket you hoped for, or a pair of roller blades… You dream of the stories you will go back to school with as you think about your gifts only to wake up on Christmas morning and find out that one of your family members has sold all the Christmas presents that were under the tree.
2. Having the cops called to the house
Drugs, alcohol, violence, and stolen property never makes for a pleasant time so naturally, having all of these things present at the same time on Christmas Eve can only be cause for disaster. There’s really no need to go into further detail; the presence of such chaos guarantees a traumatic experience.
3. Charity organization dropping off Christmas presents unannounced
I was 8 and this particular year we didn’t have a Christmas tree. The knock at the door just days before Christmas changed everything. When they left, my mother accused me of telling my teacher that we didn’t have presents and that she was a bad mom –because how else would they know to come by– then she physically punished me for being disloyal and dishonest.
For many years, the Holiday Season was a source of resentment and great anxiety. In years past, I’ve worked very hard on processing and releasing the circumstances of my life that were painful or difficult that no longer serve me. And after having been removed from some of the more unhealthy circumstances my childhood presented by my grandmother who rescued us, I was introduced to different ways to observe the holidays and new, healthier family traditions.
My younger sisters and I vowed that as we grew up and had families of our own that we would create spaces filled with love and the holidays would be a time of peace and positive energy. I am an uncle now, and as the oldest person on this particular branch of my family tree, I’m delighted and deeply humbled to have the chance to rewrite this narrative.
Merry Christmas from my family to yours.