Fun fact from the National Park Service social media page: What do you call a baby porcupine? A porcupette of course and they are born with their quills. It takes a few hours for the quills to harden enough to be used for defense, so no worries for mama, but I wouldn’t advise approaching those furry little creatures and asking, “Does someone need a hug?” They might look cute and cuddly, but they are, after all, porcupines.
The holidays of November and December are here. That wonderful season when those who don’t celebrate are annoyed at the crowded stores and the traffic and those that do celebrate find themselves at varying stress levels with decisions to make: Travel to see family or not? Alternate time between family members? Whose turn is it for Thanksgiving? Christmas? Do we divide the time between families if they all live in the same area? Does everyone play nice? Are there difficult dynamics to navigate? Any porcupines? Porcupettes? As comedian Mark Lowry put it, “You know, those are the people you see at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but you’d never go on vacation with?” Anxiety level rising just thinking about it? Aww, does someone need a hug?
Seriously, though, family relationships are complex creatures. Sometimes everyone gets along but sometimes it feels like you need to draw a line down the middle of the room and caution everyone to stay on their side, then you might still have to ring the bell and send everyone on each side to their corners. If your family gets along even most of the time, be grateful. That is a rare and precious thing.
If your family is scattered thousands of miles apart like ours, the main challenge might be simply getting everyone in the same place for a few minutes sometime during the holiday season. Then, if and when you do manage to get them all together, do you watch football? Play board games? Work puzzles? Sit and talk and catch up on life? Is there a general consensus on what to do or does everyone migrate in different directions?
Oh, and we haven’t even gotten to the part where you figure out what you’re going to eat at the meals. Special diets, picky eaters, varying opinions of the correct traditional meal, rising food costs, time to cook, who’s doing the cooking? So many decisions. Does someone need a hug yet? As of this writing, at our house we don’t even have a kitchen, due to a long-undetected drain leak, so any holiday meal at all might be in jeopardy. Maybe we’ll start a new tradition and grill burgers. Nah.
Now that your stress level is up, Christmas is approaching. What about shopping for gifts? Gift or no gift? Draw names? Give experiences or stuff? How do we top last year? What did we even give last year? What if we forget someone or something or show up too early or too late or…stressed yet? Need a hug?
If you are waiting for the answers, sorry to disappoint, but I got nothing. I’m just as perplexed as anyone else when it comes to pleasing everyone, or even anyone sometimes. But, I do have a few thoughts to offer.
Holidays are meant to be about love. They are meant to be a time to stop the craziness, slow down and focus on the blessings in our lives, focus on the people. Sometimes everything is wonderful, the people we love are present, the travel plans go smoothly, and magic happens while we’re together. But often someone is missing, or angry, or hurt, or distant, and hearts are hurting. And sometimes we are alone—even in the crowd. No rhyme or reason, it’s just life and we all experience it.
The only suggestion I have to offer is to do what you can to care for the people in your life—yourself included—and be flexible. Focus on the people, the relationships. Is someone having a great year? Celebrate with them. Does someone need a hug? Give them lots and lots of them. Listen, pay attention to the heart of what’s going on, be present in their life, care. Realize that holidays are not a competition, they are a celebration.
Give of yourself. Volunteer, contribute time, talents, and resources to others. Give grace to those who need forgiveness. Practice radical unselfishness. Make the time about what you can give not about what you get.
Will this guarantee a great holiday? Nope. But maybe it will change your perspective. Maybe it will be a start to a new era of life. Maybe seeds planted and nurtured in the days ahead will germinate and grow and change life overall for the better.
For me, this entire season is about gratitude. I am grateful for love and blessings and forgiveness and I am grateful for the special times with the special people in my life, the joy they bring, and sometimes the pain. I am grateful for Facetime and phone calls with those who can’t be present and I am grateful for the good memories of those who have gone from our midst. I am grateful for it all, even when it hurts. It’s like C. S. Lewis said, “If you love deeply, then you’re going to get hurt badly, but it’s still worth it.”
Family relationships are complex creatures. Misunderstandings, misjudgements, and mistakes are part of the human condition. Remember, bitterness is a hardy weed so don’t let it gain any traction. Forgive. Give grace. Be flexible. Love the porcupettes in your life. May this holiday season be the beginning of something special in your family.
Does someone need a hug? Go for it!
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