Do the Christmas that’s best for you

Brenda Cannon HenleyBy Brenda Cannon Henley
Realizing as I type these words that I am probably heading for deep water and an irate letter or two from readers, I write on anyway. I remember writing in my book, Morning Glories, about how difficult Christmas is for some folks. They find little joy in the beautiful songs, brightly wrapped gifts, cooking of vast amounts of food, and driving back and forth from one house to another for gift exchanges of things no one needs or wants. I personally love the holidays and celebrate my birthday (the 23rd) and Christmas all month long. I do admit that since my husband died in 2014, I sometimes have to rustle up some sweet Christmas spirit to get me started.

I remember shortly after Thanksgiving one year, my niece called and said right off the bat, “I know no one will understand, but Barry and I have decided that we are staying home for Christmas this year. She happened to live on a beautiful mountain top one state over from the majority of the family. I said, “Whoa, there, I totally understand what you are saying and I am all for you. You do what is best for you and your family.”

What had happened to cause this gut-wrenching decision on her part was that her mom and dad had divorced years before and each had married a new spouse. Then the mother had divorced that husband and had married a third man. Kinsey was closer to the second husband, her original stepdad because she had grown up with him in the house. Then there were the ensuing grandparents and aunts and uncles, not to mention cousins.

Having all these relatives that had played a part in her upbringing made holidays horrible because she felt the need to try to please each by visiting, opening gifts, and eating. Taking into account that her husband had his own family to add to the mix. Kinsey said that it was so hurtful to drag her children away from toys they had just gotten to trot from house to house causing the day to end with everyone tired, irritable, and confused. “It is just too much emotion to throw into one day,” Aunt Brenda. “I know some are going to be angry, but I’m sticking with it.”

I suggested that perhaps she could arrange to visit with some relatives prior to the actual day so that the adults could give gifts to the children and at least see them. She agreed to try that plan. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and other relatives, think about relaxing the hard fast rules and giving some space to these young families so that they can begin to establish their own traditions.

The horror of this situation came to my attention in another way that hit way too close to home for comfort. My daughter was married to a man whose mom was sweet enough and she enjoyed cooking. The only problem was that she had planned out every single holiday, including birthdays, for the entire year and demanded each young family’s attendance. She even gave them a calendar with each gathering noted. Not to go was to break a cardinal rule that she did not forgive them for doing. I said, “No problem, you just tell me when you guys can get to the house and I will work around her plans.” My daughter shook her head sadly and said, “That’s just it. We have to be there for food and games on Christmas Eve, breakfast on Christmas morning, lunch, and then dinner on Christmas night.” Her mother in law fretted and complained at the very thought of changing the traditions she had carefully set. It came across as kind and thoughtful at first, but we all soon realized that it was simply her way of controlling her growing family.

Folks, let’s give everyone room to breathe and make their own memories. I always tell my kids, “Hey, I know you love me. If you can get home, great. If not, see you on the flip.” And, I mean it. I lived the traveling life for many years and I know how valuable a day at home in pajamas around the fireplace was to my family. We can meet on a day other than the 25th if need be. We also have a rule that no news is good news. We don’t have to call every two hours to chat. Now, I love talking to my kids, and now grandkids, but I also know they are busy and have families of their own. I have a dear friend that gets countless calls from her adult kids every few minutes while we try to visit or shop. Not necessary in my book. Call me when you need me.

Let’s not be so stiff and formal about our holidays, whatever they may be, so that everyone can enjoy them coming round and not dread them with fear and quaking.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788, or


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