Privilege Blog

Every Year “Holiday Spirit” Means Something Different, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:44am

On Thanksgiving we had dinner with my father and stepmother. My sisters and brother were elsewhere. My daughter is up in the Pacific Northwest, my son is home. Can’t say we’re doubling down on tradition this year: we ate out for Thanksgiving; we’re going to have, for the first time in my life, an artificial Christmas tree. With colored lights: High WASP sacrilege.

Despite our untraditional plans I feel quite familied-up. Although my mom flickers in and out of her Alzheimer’s, my father and stepmother are as present and thoughtful and fun as ever. I have siblings and step-siblings, I feel like their personalities keep me company even when they are not here.

And of course my two adult children. Neither of them have started families themselves but they are both, what, embarking, yes, embarking that’s the word, on work/careers they have come to independent of me. In fact without much assistance at all. My daughter, as I’ve told you before, is a neurosurgical resident. My son, as I’ve not told you yet, is in his first year of an MFA in Creative Writing, down in Southern California. Isn’t that cool? The little guy with chubby feet coexists in my imagination with the bearded person carrying a coffee cup into the living room.

Also my beloved husband.

I think I mean to write about conscious family.

I love the instinctual sort, don’t get me wrong. An absent-minded pat on the shoulder, stockings hauled out of the garage, remembrance of brussels sprouts past. Feeding a crowd. Playlists: Oh Come All Ye Faithful. All I Want For Christmas Is You. But I am slowly, slowly learning something more conscious. I have to – I’m alone in my house a lot, I have to watch that I don’t try to comfort others just because it comforts me. I have to make sure not to get so lost in feelings of love and identifying that I forget that sometimes sad things happen and they are not to be fixed. That people don’t always want help. Need has to be defined by the needer.

I feel I need to mention cranberries here, I’m not quite sure why.

So here’s a tradition. People need things from each other. Families are to make that OK. However it happens.

Have a wonderful weekend.

37 Responses

  1. We’re having our first Christmas tree since 2007, in the first house we’ve owned since 2007. There’s a pattern here! Anyway, we’re in Arizona, and the Noble Firs are just ridiculously expensive, and worse are already losing their needles because it’s so dry here. Et voila! We’re going artificial as well. It’s a white, not making an effort to appear real, slim Norwegian Fir. I actually kind of like it. We tossed all of our tree stands, lights and etc., years ago, so it was an easy choice. I will miss the smell, but the fire hazard, not so much. Happy holiday season to you and yours.

  2. Another beautiful post Lisa and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your readers.

    The last paragraph was particularly relevant to me. I have thought it many times but you have given voice to words that lie loose in my mind and are uncomfortable, anxious.
    I also try to change everything to make it more perfect which of course, is it’s own imperfection. “Need has to be defined by the needer”.

    Just finished some holiday champagne. The fires in California will burn and I’m unable to stop them. I commit to try. Is it in vain?


    1. @luci, I think for problems so vast as our climate, no one person’s inability to stop it matters. There’s no such thing as trying in vain in this situation – even if we try for the wrong things, our trying may inspire someone else to try for the right thing.

      If aging is for anything, in my life, after living through love comes giving up anxiety wherever I can. And especially in my family. xoxoxox.

  3. I thought I was dealing with my adult children pretty well, but a couple of upsetting things have happened in their lives, and rippled into mine lately that have caused me to look more closely at my behavior towards them.

    It’s time for another round of Mama backing off and treating them as adults. You wouldn’t think a cooking magazine subscription would cause a DIL to feel defensive, but once you know that there are a lot of other things to rethink as well.

  4. I love your attitude. “Once you know that there are a lot of other things to rethink as well.” Not to defend but to learn. xoxox.

    1. @Lisa,
      Hi, Ms. Cornochan. Sorry to barge in on an unrelated subject, but I’m a reporter working on a story about shopping online for furniture. I saw that Pottery Barn responded to your complaint on Twitter. I’d like to know how the situation was resolved. Can you email me at Many thanks.

  5. You have wonderful children,Lisa
    Sometimes it is time to change tradition,to make it different,one’s own….
    There is not a perfect life ,the only one for all- a perfect tree or something else
    I’m going to have only branches in a huge vase-because it is something I always wanted to have but had a tree instead(you know-tradition…)!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. @Dottoressa, Thank you. I am lucky. And exactly, there is not a perfect life. I am imagining your vase with branches and thinking it will be spectacular. Happy Thanksgiving and on our way to Christmas.

  6. Traditions can bring a needed sense of continuity sometimes, but I think it’s good to shake things up now and then. Move with the times. It’s about finding that balance between stuck and rootless.

    One not-so-small victory for us: Jeune Homme actually came out and sat at the Thanksgiving dinner table for a few minutes, and even ate a few bites. (We hosted TG, total of 8.) Usually he’s so anxious with crowds (even if family) he withdraws and won’t engage. Progress!

    1. @Susan B., “It’s about finding that balance between stuck and rootless.” Isn’t it just? xoxox. I am so happy to hear about JH’s progress! Wonderful!

  7. If there is one constant in life, it is change. Like you state, holiday traditions change over time too. Often to meet new needs. Everyone tells me get a fake tree, it’s easy and less mess. This year I am looking but have yet to buy. I’m on the fence. Decision pending! I find adult children bring meaning to the holidays as well. Their significant others add another dimension. My son flies in from Chicago. My prime rib roast was a success. My cooking can be less than perfection but this seemed to please all…after they accepted the turkey tradition was not upheld. Change in motion. All is well. Good and lots of champs makes everything better.

    1. @Susan, I kind of love this, “My cooking can be less than perfection but this seemed to please all…after they accepted the turkey tradition was not upheld.” I mean, redefine the tradition so it fits in your, as they say, wheelhouse! Also champagne:). I think I’ll get some for Christmas.

  8. “Sometimes sad things happen and they are not to be fixed.” Yes, I’ve had to learn that the hard way but now that I know I hope I can remember for the next time. It sounds like your children are thriving and right where they should be in their lives. Have a good weekend and enjoy the holiday season!

    1. @Jane, Thank you:). Sometimes the only way to learn is hard, right, and I wish that weren’t so but it seems it’s part of being a person. xoxox.

  9. Much resonance for me here as I’m visiting my daughter (and her family) near Rome — there is often a strain to these visits, and I recognise through your words that the strain is at least in part because I arrive with patterns that settled in over decades of mothering and that don’t always work in this new context. I’m becoming quite (perhaps even have become) quite conscious in my actions and words — the challenge is to remain authentic and also to have this become easier — which also means letting go of whatever sorrow comes with moving beyond the old ways. I’m getting there — and I see signs that she’s trying to do the same thing (perhaps with less sorrow ;-)
    xo, and thanks for the thinking . . .

    1. @Frances, “— the challenge is to remain authentic and also to have this become easier —” yes, yes, exactly that. And also to remain in a maternal role, not someone’s friend, but not the mother of infants, toddlers, school-age, or teen children.

  10. I was lying in bed and thinking about how close Christmas is – Advent beginning next weekend – but how this part of the year is somehow more precious because it is the fragile veil between autumn and true winter and always seems to get pushed aside as the annual Christmas machine gets underway. This year I hope it will be husband, adult children, perhaps a brother-in-law, perhaps a mother-in-law and that is fine. A tree (not too huge), festive food (not slavish with tradition), some presents but mostly I am looking forward to chat and drinks and sitting on the sofa with tv and going for walks. I have come to the time now where I prefer the adult Christmases of the present rather than hanker for the childhood versions of just a few years ago. It is still Christmas, no matter how you do it. And, I must say, I never include cranberries in mine. Bring on the bread sauce!

    1. @Annie Green, That’s the thing, right, ” I have come to the time now where I prefer the adult Christmases of the present rather than hanker for the childhood versions of just a few years ago.” How to come to inhabit the present with as much intent as possible without losing comfort, ease, etc. Bread sauce? What is this bread sauce of which you speak?!?!

  11. A timely post as I had written something similar in my journal the other night. With four grown children, all but one, with children of their own, I have found myself stepping back from their lives, their business and their busyness for some time now. Leaving it to them to decide if and when we get together and having few, if any, expectations. As Frances said above, ‘letting go of whatever sorrow comes’.

    1. @Mary, “As Frances said above, ‘letting go of whatever sorrow comes’.” Yes. And I suddenly wondered, when the grandchild is born, if the adult child might welcome us and we reconnect with having them as babies, and then as the grandchildren grow up maybe we separate all over again?

      But with my parents in their 80s, and my children in their late 20s and early 30s, seems I am closer to them all over again.

  12. This post has made me think about “tradition,” and whether it’s something that naturally evolves over time, or happens once or twice and then gets set in stone – and how we relate to both possibilities.

    I myself prefer evolution to ossification, so for each Thanksgiving I host I consider possible tweaks or outright changes, and then observe how they affect the general flow (and affect me, as cook, set designer, hostess, and clean-up crew).

    This year my goal was to be personally relaxed, so I made several side dishes the day before, bought dessert (a fancy apple pie), and found myself making gravy (while the turkey rested and the side dishes warmed) in a state of almost Zen-like calm – which may have been the biggest change in my entire Turkey Day history!

    Serenity Now – along with lots of cranberries, of course …

    1. @Victoire, Oh my gosh that sounds perfect. I wish I could organize my whole life to maximize moments of Zen gravy-stirring.

      Evolution can have intent, I think, we are humans and we’re gonna have opinions:).

  13. The little guy with chubby feet coexisting with the bearded person carrying a coffee cup…..beautifully said, and so true! They grow up, and if we’re lucky they grow into fine young adults, using the solid foundations we built for them.

    “Need has to be defined by the needer.” So important to remember!
    Comforting others is a regular thing for me – I never really thought it comforts me, but this is probably true on a subconscious level. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. This post of yours was so beautifully written. The holidays bring out such deep feelings for all of us.

    1. @audrie, Thank you for listening. The deep feelings emerge – and then do we listen consciously or do we let them affect our actions in ways we have no understanding of. Or, if we’re me, something in between:).

  14. “patterns that settled in over decades of mothering and that don’t always work in this new context.”

    Thanks Lisa and responders to a thought provoking post and contributions. Some of you have eloquently put into words the sense of melancholy that has been settling on me since my children have grown and moved on. We see them far too seldom. Responders here remind me I am not alone in this. Nor in the modification of ‘traditions’. I found this all strangely comforting to know that this passage of life that I am on is the same as everyone else’s. I miss my children terribly and was only reminiscing last night with hubster about how we used to take them out for a treat when they were little for a big buffet breakfast at one of the big hotels in town. I can’t imagine how I got them (and myself) dressed and ready and in the car on a Sunday for 9am. Apologies to all those who attend church as I realise this is part of your regular routine. Sundays now are taking the dog for a leisurely walk, late breakfast on the patio and no makeup, change the bed linen and then an afternoon nap. Their childhood seems like it was a lifetime ago. It makes me melancholy, but it’s bittersweet because we want them to grow up and become independent right? It’s what the whole point of all that parenting was about, bringing them to a place where they can function without us. Anyway, I have a gorgeous fake tree that comes with lights already attached, it literally pops out of the box and then I dangle baubles on it. This year I am doing navy blue and silver baubles because I can. But I do miss the little handmade ornaments that used to come out every year which the children had made at school and kindergarten. It was time to give them up last year. Onwards. Xxxx

    1. @Tracey Southwell, In this modern age our goal is supposed to be to raise our children so they leave us, happily, in strength and love. And it is melancholy. Our lives without them can be gorgeous pre-lit trees, and yet we’re going to miss the little ornaments even so. xox.

  15. Loved this post. Enjoyed the resulting comments as well. So much to think about. Daughter needs to stay close to work since taking a week-long bereavement leave. We will be going to her place for the holiday. Husband injured himself & physical therapy is taking longer than he wants. So I am the log hauler for the wood stove & snow shoveler. So, not having to deal with tree is fine with me. Most of my decorating is designed to go well into January with minor tweaks so I’m taking my time with that as well. I am lucky that our adult children are still unattached. We still have an active relationship with them-different but still chock full of love & mutual respect. I am aware that when they do find their life partners there will need to be adjustments. Victoire said it well. “I prefer evolution to ossification…”

    1. @Carol, Thank you. And I think for one year I might to be a log hauler and snow shoveler! I mean, just for a change? A lot of exercise? I hope you all have a wonderful time at your daughter’s. I hope the bereavement is not too sad.

  16. I so appreciate your post and all of the comments; I love the way everyone offers great words for some of these new feelings and shifts in our lives. We had a quieter Thanksgiving for us: daughter, boyfriend, his parents. Our son was working that day but duly showed up for leftovers on Saturday.

    We talked about Thanksgivings past and what traditions and foods we treasured and kept of those as well as some of the inherent challenges of traveling for this day, working on this day, and even adjusting to new folks joining the ever-shifting group around the table.

    The older I get, the more I realize it was always changing—even if imperceptibly, that Thanksgiving for us is perpetually a work-in-progress and perhaps not the static image I harbor from childhood. This, I think, is a good thing.

    1. @Mary, I think that’s very wise. The older I get, the more I should realize that it has always been changing. Trying to let things go more, set lower expectations for my adrenaline system.

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