Exactly, Tom Gregg.
I’m not cynical about it in the least, just infinitely sad it’s a source of so much pain for so many people.
For the longest time, my father was one; my parents went through an extremely acrimonious divorce whereupon my mom took me with her to live at the other end of the country. For many years, my father was persona non-grata in her home; whenever he visited, he had to stay in a hotel and he wasn’t allowed to come in.
Over the years, she began to soften and eventually called a Christmas truce. Dad would come and have lunch with us and we’d spend a thoroughly uncomfortable day, with my parents trying very hard not to offend each other while I kept wondering how and why the two most incompatible people I’ve ever met got married and even chose to have a kid. Dad is a natural at fatherhood but Mom wasn’t a natural at motherhood and she still struggles terribly. When she left Dad, he was shell-shocked and his entire world fell apart but he dealt with it all with resilience, grace, and magnanimity.
So. Much. Magnanimity.
Unfortunately, years of trauma run deep and Dad still gets maudlin over the holiday season, it’s reactive now even though he and my stepmom have been together for longer than he was married to my mother.
My stepmom is the antidote to the Christmas blues: She’s an ebullient, joyful person who loves decorating and hosting people. I landed on Dec 29 last year so I didn’t spend Christmas with them but I literally walked into a winter wonderland in their condo with the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. My stepmom’s reasoning was that it could be her last Christmas so she sent Dad out to get the most magnificent for specimen he could find, no expenses spared. And of course he came back with some gigantic awe-inspiring thing that barely fitted inside the elevator and took up a quarter of the living room.
I’ve been away for a few weeks in the Netherlands and I’m now staying at my mother’s in Northern France, sitting out the nationwide strike that is making train travel difficult and public transport within Paris impossible. Right now, no one has any plans to do anything because we have another oncology consult followed by chemo on Dec 23 and my father is literally holding his breath; we all are.
But regardless of what news we receive that day — and there’s definitely going to be news — I want to make sure my parents have at least a day of respite and joy. Not sure how to go about it yet though, and I also have to talk to my stepbrother because I’m unclear about what his plans are.
And then there’s my birth mom who is already thoroughly depressed about the season and also has nowhere to go this year so far but bringing my three parents together is impossible because of ill health on all sides and logistics, among other things. It would cause so much stress to all three of them it’s not even an option.
To my family, Christmas has never been about “stuff” but about togetherness (and food, true to the French cliché), and even this is, well, complicated. I can’t remember the last time we spent the holiday together — any of us. I left home at 17 so before that I guess. No one expects me to be around and I didn’t expect me to be around either as I thought I’d be abroad so everything is in limbo.
Also, I have to wait for our public transport network to right itself before I can plan anything. All I know is that I’ll be back in the Netherlands on Dec 28. What happens between now and then is anyone’s guess…
This was a far longer reply than I intended and I’m not sure it even makes much sense but I wanted to try and convey the complexity of the whole thing. And my situation is far from unique, this much I know.
Last but not least, thank you ever so much / merci beaucoup for your invite, Tom! I will be in Europe but I’ll be sure to raise my cup of tea to your good health and that of your family on Christmas Day.