Holiday musings..growing up with dysfunctional turkey

It’s Thanksgiving Eve as I write this, a time where if you live in the United States you are either in route to celebrate with family and friends. Or perhaps you are in the thick of meal preparation as you get ready to feast tomorrow or maybe you are checking your list so that come 5 am on Friday you can get ready to snag some deals on Black Friday and try to avoid becoming a casualty of shopping gone mad. Though for many of us myself included holidays are times of great ambivalence.

The truth is until recent years I absolutely hated holidays, yet aside from sharing that with the Spousal Unit I never told a living soul. After all nothing brings the mood down faster than telling people that for you holidays are like hell…trapped with people you love (you think) but who also drive you mad in a very real and painful manner.


Yet the older I get, I no longer feel compelled to speak falsehoods, to heal its imperative that I name things and clear it out of my system. Truth is growing up holidays even seemingly benign ones like Thanksgiving sucked aside from the food. I wish with all my heart that I had one of those close knit families that so many others speak of, where yes there are sticky moments but at the end of the day there is love and laughter.

Lately I find myself thinking about how very different childhood is for my children compared to what I had growing up. The single biggest difference is that they are peaceful, especially for the girl child who has really had no connection with my family. College boy shared some holiday time with my family but between shared custody and my moving to Maine when he was 10, while he has some memories most were the traditions that I worked at building when he was  a young child.

See, I grew up in a family where a good time for all meant drinking…fact is I have nothing against drinking. The Spousal Unit and I lately have taken to sharing wine or a beer on a regular occasion but for us drinking does not define events and activities and drunkenness is most certainly to be avoided. Yet recently in looking at a scrap book from my childhood, I realized almost every picture that was centered on any type of holiday there are bottles of booze in the background. These photos were the visual proof that my memories were not flawed but that the yelling, screaming and occasional knife chases that I remembered happening on holidays were not in fact just false memories.

It’s hard to admit that, most certainly in a public forum but I suspect I am not the only one whose childhood was less than idyllic. Yet for many of us it’s hard to admit that in part because we feel it will reflect poorly on us…I mean what does it say about you if you came from such a dysfunctional family that the act of sharing a good time and meal was taken as a license for the adults in charge to get drunk, nasty and sometimes violent? Well the older I get it means simply that is where I came from but it does not define my present or my future.

I have often shared with friends that in many ways despite the litany of things I can bitch about as a Black woman living in Maine, moving 1100 miles away from my family of origin was probably the best thing I could do for my mental health. Moving to Maine meant I no longer had to show up at holiday meals out of a sense of familial obligation. It meant I was finally free to craft my own traditions and ways of doing things without fear of judgment.

Currently it means that we break bread on Thanksgiving with dear friends who have included us in their inner circle as part of their family traditions where our girls play for hours together and have since they were 1 and 2. It means good food that nourishes the body and good conversation that nourishes the soul. Oh the dinner at times has attracted it’s share of quirky characters but unlike what I was accustomed to for the first 30 years of my life, everyone will mind their manners. There will be no drunken brawls, no one cussing anyone out and so on.

So for anyone reading this who has struggled under the weight of holidays and dysfunctional families, don’t be afraid to carve out your own traditions, after all not all skinfolk in kinfolk. Sometimes we find kinship with people who share no blood ties to us and we are better for it.

6 thoughts on “Holiday musings..growing up with dysfunctional turkey”

  1. I love this post and totally agree. The holidays can be what you make them. At some point in your life, you have the opportunity to choose. I just use them for a mini-vacation from work and wait them out until the new year. Then Yippee! Back to normal life.

  2. It is so important to have peace on holidays. I do not go to places where I am accosted verbally. I do not go to places that within 1 hour I would like to go running to the door. I go to my parents house where it is chill and I relax. I avoid the big family gatherings due to the forever and a day drama that ensues. iCan’t.

    To Natalie – talk to one of your friends who have a chill Thanksgiving at home occassionally and go with them. Find a restaurant and go there and go to a movie. Call a friend or family member up and chat for a few minutes wishing them a happy holiday. Volunteer. Have dessert or a drink with someone who does go to their dysfunctional family event. Enjoy some peace and your day.

  3. ^^Natalie, even for folks who are married with children, I think it’s worthwhile to create your own traditions with friends. We’re so busy these days and it’s not easy to do it but I think it’s so valuable if we can.

    BGIM, excellent post. My family holidays were always stressful. When I was studying to be a doctor, I always thought that one of the main perks would be that I could work on holidays and avoid my family. I think you’re lucky you moved so far away . . . it helps sanity wise. I still live pretty close to mine but not too close. It’s a blessing. I so totally agree about re-creating holidays on your own terms.

    • Nat, one of my closest friends is a single man in his 40’s. Back in his 30’s he simply stopped visiting family on holidays out of obligation. He normally uses holidays to do exactly what he wants that generally includes a special meal out and a movie. I would also say choosing to spend it with folks who you do care about, create a potluck or simple meal at either your place or a choose place to hang out at.

  4. I understand this to a degree. I love the holidays with my family of origin. It’s time with my “dear” in-laws that drives me nuts! Last year, my ILs got into an arguement before they even finished blessing the food. *sigh* We have opted to stay home tomorrow and do our own thing (which is absolutely nothing) and I am so looking forward to it. I’m finally going to get back the lowkey holidays I loved when we lived 1200 miles away!

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