Over hills, through woods, and now for the family . . .


Did you go over the hills and through the woods to grandmother's house for Thanksgiving? If you didn't, you may have to go there for Christmas or Hanukkah.

What's that? It's too far away, or your kids want to stay home this year. Or Grandma is not fun anymore. Thus begins the hassle and feelings of obligation that pull on families at holiday times.

The logistics of the season -- where to go, whom to be with -- set off a dilemma for many of us.

Helen is a mall walker with me. Last week we stopped to have a cup of coffee together.

At 62 she is a recent widow. She tells me all three of her grown children who live out of town have invited her for Christmas. But as she stares into the Christmas shop at the mall, with its thousands of short-lasting baubles and bangles, greens and reds, she says, "Look at all this commercialization and furor. It makes gift-giving so full of tension . . . it's just too complicated, Christmas. Or maybe I'm just getting too old for it . . . The children are insisting they want me with them, but they are all so busy. Listen, they don't have time to cook the turkey, 'dress' it, or even 'dress' the Christmas tree."

Helen has a small apartment, so she can't invite all the family there.

Then she goes on to confess that when they are all together there's too much confusion and too many undercurrents of sibling rivalry. Not everyone is happy and jolly. That ho, ho, ho turns into a hollow ha, ha, ha.

As she confides, I tell her that she is missing her husband and that her feelings are not unusual. I once spent a Christmas alone, but I was much younger.

"I feel as if I would like to fly off to the Caribbean and pretend Christmas wasn't a thing we have to do," she adds.

When you are alone, you have the terrible fear that you might be alone Christmas Day. Yet the alternative -- too many people around you, and the conflicts -- can be stressful and fearsome.

Psychologists and psychiatrists tell us that holiday times can be very depressing. They can be full of memories or expectations. And then for some there's the terror that they may always be alone. But remember, you can feel alone in a crowd.

Professionals tell us to be wary of Christmas emotions. The times can be a downer for even those who seem to have everything. We eat too much, drink too much, spend too much and don't get enough sleep.

After Helen has unburdened, I suggest that she spend Christmas with the child with which she is most comfortable, then fly off to the Caribbean the next day.

We both end up laughing.

I do know this: Christmas has to be in your heart to be really loved.

In our early marriage we never considered going anywhere for Christmas because we had too many children who didn't want to leave home.

Now in my golden years with a husband who hates to travel, we go with the flow. I am just grateful the children invite us. After all, we have to have our own pillows, fat-free cookies, prunes, packages of sweeteners, medicines, electric blanket and back massager. We are a lot of trouble.

And I have told Helen to consider me for her partner on the Caribbean fling, the day after. Yeah! What an idea. Of course, I will have to find out if she snores.

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