Peace on Earth and War at Home

Ah, the holiday season; a joyous time for families to come together, create new traditions, and fight about the old ones. It’s not that they’re disagreeable people—well some of them are disagreeable people—it’s just that couples bring to their marriages the traditions of the families they grew up in. And they desperately want to pass their customs on to their children. Not only that, they feel that their partner’s traditions are—how can I say this diplomatically—silly and stupid and therefore not worth keeping alive.

NOTE: The world’s religions are outside the scope of my expertise, as most things are, so for the purposes of this essay, I will focus on those couples who agree to celebrate Christmas. But that may be all they agree on.

Let’s start with the most basic question: When to decorate? One partner believes that if the Christmas decorations are up more than two weeks out, the true meaning of the holiday season will be forgotten and boredom will set in. They also hope that if they wait long enough, they’ll get out of decorating altogether.

The other partner thinks that if they’re going to go to all the trouble, they ought to enjoy the decorations for as long as possible. Not to mention, it’s easier to decorate the outside of the house while it’s 72 degrees. Why not put the decorations up on an unseasonably cool day in July?

The family must also decide between a real and an artificial tree. One partner takes the emotional angle that artificial trees don’t smell as nice or look as, well, real. The other side is more logical. “Yes, but artificial trees don’t drop needles; they’re never flat on one side; and we won’t have to ax a lovely, living tree to death every year.” Okay; maybe that’s a little emotional too.

If the family decides on a real tree, they must choose between buying one and cutting one. “Remember how much fun we had last year, tromping through the forest and cutting down our tree?”

“Yes! And remember getting stuck in the snow and losing the chainsaw?”

Wherever they get their tree, some members of the family like pine, some like fir, and at least one is still grumbling that an artificial tree would be easier. Finally, in the spirit of the season, there are compromises made and pouting all the way home.

Then there’s the subject of gifts. One parent panics if the gifts aren’t bought and wrapped by August 1. The other holds out hope that Santa will show up, rendering shopping unnecessary. When this doesn’t happen, and it seldom does, this partner believes there is nothing wrong with shopping on December 24--except that his/her spouse grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve.

“That makes no sense. Everyone knows Santa only works one night a year.”

“If Santa did his job we wouldn’t be discussing this. Maybe it’s time we tell the kids the truth.”

“Not yet! Remember how upset they were when they caught me filling the Easter baskets.”

“You weren’t filling them! You were eating out of them. Anyway, thinking about Santa keeps them awake.”

“That’s good! They’ll be alert for midnight services.”

“MIDNIGHT! They might be alert, but I don’t intend to be.”

The question of staying home or traveling to share the holiday with relatives can also be divisive, and more so with certain relatives. If the family stays home, there’s the subject of what to prepare for holiday meals. Ham or prime rib? Turkey or tofu?

If they’re traveling, they don’t have to decide, but they do have to eat, or pretend to. And there are good reasons some holiday foods are eaten only once a year. It can take a full year to summon the courage to eat lutefisk, fruit cake, or oyster stew again. Personally, I could eat oyster stew on any holiday, including the Fourth of July. But I don’t think my family would agree to that tradition.