Things to look forward to during the holidays: time off work, food, drink and — you may wince or smile here — the family gathering.
Whether holiday gatherings of relatives are a highlight or lowlight in your clan, one thing’s usually true of many area kinfolk. It’s a pretty big deal that commands some degree of preparation or anticipation.
You may be like Ted Canaday, 30, who looks forward to a modest gathering of six immediate relatives enjoying good grub, a few libations and a good movie. Canaday family gatherings usually revolve around food. Spirits are consumed moderately, out of respect for the event’s relaxing tradition. This is Ted’s time to reconnect.
He remembers being a child and getting to see his family “all day, every day. Getting to see them now gives me a chance to relive that normalcy. I get to spend so little time with them that when I do, it’s a relief, even if I’m doing family chores. It kind of makes you feel like a teenager again.”
Great. Ted’s a Huxtable.
So are Carl and Saran Hollier, 29-year-old newlyweds blending two clans into one new one. It doubles their fun, and their work. Yet, both have to occasionally watch out for that relative, the one who is liable to drink or smoke too much.
If you’re like the Holliers, and your special relative shows up, like the one who got so drunk at a family gathering a few years ago that Carl had to show him the door, you may have just eight fingers available for eating. The other two will be crossed all night.
But, hey, that’s what family is for. It’s best to get kicked out by your loved ones. You can always come back.
Theresa Sampson, 39, gets to partner with her cousins to keep another relative’s dark side from emerging during the family gathering.
“One time, she didn’t get the right piece of the turkey,” Theresa reveals. “She’d brought friends that night too. She got so upset, she tossed her plate aside — off the table — got up and left. Left her people there too. We had to find rides for them, just ’cause she didn’t get her piece of meat.
“This is the one that does stuff for the church all the time too.”
Sampson’s remedy might prove useful to those of you who share her plight. Just do your best to make sure the temperamental one feels like the most important person in the house, and hope that’s enough to get you through it. Wipe your nose at the end of the night.
Chevon Jones, 30, bears a different kind of burden. She gets cooking detail for 20 hungry relatives.
“My family loves when I cook fried chicken, cabbage, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and candied yams,” she says.
Cooking and baking is enjoyable for Jones, and her family has branded her for it. Sweet potato pie with whipped cream is her specialty, and it’s a hit with family and friends during the holidays. She can look forward to working her butt off every year for a long time to come.
Jones’ plan for workload management is to get started around 10 a.m., put on some gospel, multitask, and hopefully finish by 4 p.m., just in time to pack the car and get the food to grandma Essaqueena’s (don’t try, just say “Queen,” like the rest of the family) house.
If you’re anything like Rachelle McIntosh, 22, you’ve got a bigger issue. McIntosh’s parents are divorced. Both have remarried, and she’s established strong ties (read: visitation duties) with both parents’ families, and her new stepfamilies. Her boyfriend’s family loves her too.
She tries to visit them all — in one day.
Stopping short of admitting to liking the challenge, McIntosh explains her planning process for like-minded individuals.
“I just prioritize the time in my day. I’ll be here for two hours, two hours here, three hours here. I get started around one o’ clock, and I might not get home until 2 or 3 in the morning.”
Or you learn to say no.
Then again, you could be Marion Hines who, at 53, is making the biggest adjustment of her life. She needs family. Her 32-year marriage ended when her husband passed away in 2002. Hines is very close to his family, but not her own.
Last year marked the first time Hines spent Christmas with her in-laws without her husband. She says it was very hard, and wants to make this year more enjoyable.
“I’m gonna try to approach it like I always do,” she says. “I have one sister-in-law. She’ll make out a list with everything everybody is supposed to bring. We all bring what’s on the list. We all meet up. And we all gather around and hold hands, 30 or 40 of us. We pick one person randomly to bless the food. Big family. I enjoy that. Family makes a big difference.”
Hines begins to cry and walks off before disclosing her husband’s name. She doesn’t return, and one can only hope that this year will be easier for her.
If you’re like some others, your stark reality is that family gatherings are nowhere near the stuff of your dreams.
You could be the young women at Catholic Social Services of Wayne County’s Teen Parent Supportive Housing Program. Teenage mothers who cannot live at home go there for shelter and counseling. Some of them have relatives whose drug abuse makes the home too dangerous for their babies. Others have been sexually abused, and have come with their children to escape.
Despite the trauma they endure, many of them still want to be with their families during the holidays.
“Seeing that parent during the holidays could bring on a whole slew of issues because the parent is celebrating the holidays with drugs or alcohol,” says Katora McPherson, a program coordinator at Catholic Social Services. “But no matter how damaging the home environment, the teen still has the fantasy that everything is going to turn out to be perfect. This time, Mom is not going to be high. Or this time, uncle is not going to be there, so there’s no chance of sexual abuse.”
McPherson says many of the girls are excited to get away from the facility for a few days, and are granted extended leaves. They are often equally excited to return.
Michele Breech, a clinical social worker for Barat Child & Family Services in Detroit, says many clients experience increased depression during the holidays. Barat is a residential home for abused or neglected youth aged 13-17.
“For young [people] who aren’t able to visit their family, you do see increased depression,” says Breech. “We have staff, however, who volunteer to take them to their homes. So they still get to enjoy a type of family atmosphere. Generally, it’s a staff member who they’ve connected with and can confide in. They often say it feels like family.”
Whether your family function is an event you need to get through, or one you can’t wait to get to, consider the children at CSS and Barat while you’re cooking, drinking, smoking or struggling to manage your time. Once you do, surviving the family get-together may not be much of a chore.
Check out more Holiday Survival Guide stories:
Season for sharing
How to help those in need survive the holidays.
Giving on the cheap
Or should we say "inexpensive?"
Pass (on) the stuffing
Ways to keep the holidays from becoming too weighty.
Blue for Christmas
How to battle the holiday blahs.
Presents from tinsel town
What would the season be without its flicks?
Avoiding Xmas bling bling
You needn't sell out to the corporate juggernaut.
A gift guide to underground recordings.
Oh, holy naught
This year's Xmas sounds like the hour 13 lineup on the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
A dilettante's guide to holiday imbibing.
Silent night, sober night
How to stay on the wagon.
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