Family, Christmas, expectations and that sort of thing

This Modern Love column Carolyn S. Briggs really held my attention and brought back some old feelings about family, holidays and expectations.

Consider the opening:

MY three vegetarian, activist, urban, multi-degreed, agnostic, adult children have rejected Christmas as a consumerist sham of a holiday, one in which they will not be participating. Oh, they’ll take the day off and drink organic wine, but they won’t be buying presents, putting up a tree, baking cookies, lighting candles or decking any halls. There will be no taking of a family picture for their card and no sending of that card or any other.

My parents didn’t have a Christmas tree this year. When I visited for Thanksgiving, my mother gingerly broached the subject.

“How would you feel…if we didn’t have a tree?”

“No biggie. It’s OK.”

Mom instantly seemed relieved. “David, Jen’s alright with it.

“OK. That’s good. It’s a lot of work, honey.”

“We’ll get a giant poinsettia ” Mom said.

She likes Christmas, and decorating. Just not the tree anymore apparently.*

I have always been sensitive. Nostalgic for something I couldn’t even name so I get why my parents broached the subject of changing a tradition with me somewhat nervously. But really, who am I to tell them to fuss with a tree when I just show up, breezing in and out of town, no help at all?

*Imagine my surprise when I arrived in PA a few days before Christmas and found the house decked out with not one but three small Christmas trees inside the house.


When I was a kid, my favorite thing during the Christmas season was to lie beneath the tree and look up into the lights. I probably started doing so as consolation when we stopped having a train set under our wiry artificial tree. Something about the platform that housed the train was always broken, as if mischievous elves inhabited our basement for the spring, summer and fall months. I loved that train set-up, but felt so stressed each year while Dad tried to make it all perfect.

My parents’ relationship was fragile then. Brittle. A small disagreement almost always led to days of them not speaking. It’s not something you ever get used to. If a fight could be avoided by removing a task likely to go awry, I wouldn’t complain.

I would really miss the smell of the smoky plume emitted by the tiny train engine though, the little houses that formed a village and the plastic animals mounted in miniature pens.

My parents’ marriage improved dramatically through the years. The catalyst was probably my departure for college. For a while I didn’t know how to feel about that. Now I will just say this: raising an only child can be hard.

Even now as an adult, I miss that little train. But I am much fonder of the peace my family has been able to attain.


Related posts:

Why I don’t enjoy Christmas

How to gift wrap a cat for Christmas

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