Fellow ROW author Nadja Notariani is hosting a 12 Days of Christmas Reading Gift List. I've got a button over there on the left. I've mentioned it a few times, and that I'm taking part in it. One of the things that was asked of participants is to post a favorite holiday tradition sometime this week so that Najda can link back to it during the promotion. So this is my entry...
Let me start off first with some background. I have a big family. Think stereotypical Greek, except we're of German descent. We're big. We're loud. We eat a lot and drink a little. And, at just around 3 hours away from home, I'm likely in the top 5 for the Furthest Away Award (comes with a guilt-polished plaque).
Big family gatherings are something I grew up on. Until I went away to college (1.5 hours away), I never really realized how strange that was. Most people probably had a favorite Uncle or Aunt that you saw once or twice a year. Maybe Grandma or Grandpa were around, but generally you could all fit in one room. In the spring, we rent a pavilion. Any time someone's in the hospital or something, we work out shifts, because if we all showed up at the same time, the nurses would have a fit. For Christmas, we have to crowd into someone's house, and every room suddenly becomes a family room.
And we're talking just immediate family. This isn't a reunion. My family generally meets monthly to celebrate birthdays. (Which I often miss. Keeping up my FAA ranking, you know.) So simply meeting isn't really a Christmas tradition, though Christmas for me will always be firmly couched in Family.
We do all the normal stuff like put up a tree, bake cookies, throw out some lights, exchange gifts. But why would any of that be a favorite? They're fun and part of the season, sure, but they don't speak to my identity. If I'm going to share something, I want it to be tied to who I am. What really embodies how I feel about Christmas time.
As I mused about the holidays in general, it came to me suddenly: Family Picture Time.
At each of these massive Christmas gatherings, we have an event that I'll lovingly call family picture time. I don't even think it's officially "on the schedule," but everyone knows it's coming. I think sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking: "maybe it won't happen this year." But it always does. At some point, after the food and presents usually, when everyone is full of merriment, it is decreed to be picture time.
You have to understand, the task of trying to get everyone in our huge family together in some sort of coordinated pose, and to SIT STILL and SHUT UP for a minute or two is nothing short of Herculean. The chaos that ensues when the rallying cry of "picture time" goes out is something that cannot be described in words. It is equal parts feeding frenzy and stampede in the gorge. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
As a kid, it put a temporary hold on playtime, that most important of all Christmas traditions. It validated the fact that your mother made you wear that stupid Christmas sweater when you were totally fine in briefs and a giant T-shirt. There was nothing worse than sitting still and looking nice, and this was like the Superbowl of the Nice Still Sitting League.
And don't get me wrong. As I age, it's not that I enjoy picture time in and of itself any more. You trade the unbridled annoyance of a child for the more patient annoyance of an adult, but annoyance is still the key functioning feeling. Perhaps I still harbor a deep-seated resentment for that one time when I was coerced to stop playing with my brand new Lego set and forced to perch on my Aunt's lap for the briefest of moments before letting the cold Christmas whirlwind whisk me away again. Or maybe pictures just really aren't all that exciting. There are real bowl games on TV, after all.
Whatever the case, I can't honestly say that I'm looking forward to the bustle of picture time. But the idea of picture time? Yes, that's where the warm fuzzies are. The fact that I'm fortunate enough to have a family so large, yet still able to be together and packed beneath one roof for the holidays. We've lost some and gained some along the way, but we're all there. Everyone, even if you can't see someone, they'll show up in the photo evidence (new or ancient). They were there are some point. That's what makes picture time both a trying experience and a treasured tradition.
When it comes right down to it, isn't that how most of us feel about the holidays anyway? A mixture of seemingly opposed emotions that blend together in an indiscernible brew? Aren't the most poignant memories bittersweet in one way or another? A lost love. A phase of life left behind. Grandma's "thump" to keep you in line. And, yes, family picture time.
Say: "Merry Christmas!"