How We Spend the Holidays

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways we spend our holidays.

I’m wondering what could be gained if, instead of traveling hundreds of miles and begging schedules into compliance to be with family, we stayed put and gathered makeshift families around us to celebrate the holidays. What if we did Thanksgiving and Christmas in the places where we do the other 50 weeks of the year?

There are, of course, compelling arguments for gathering with family on these significant dates. I know how family informs identity and coming together with flesh and blood refreshes weary souls. I know the holy work of speaking into and being spoken into by siblings and parents, by the people who watched you grow up.

But I also know that many of us have been disappointed and will continue to be disappointed if we rely on our families alone to provide for us support and vitality. If we let family become an idol, it will lead us ultimately to despair. Emily Joy writes about this a little bit here.

So what would happen if we made room in our culture for more than just family at the holidays?

Matthias Roberts tweeted,

The closets we call our homes have a tendency to shrink & suffocate. May we be brave people and open the doors, inch by inch.

What happens when we open the doors of our homes and lives instead of drawing ever inward? What if we dare to look beyond our families? What if we invite neighbors, friends, coworkers, classmates into the places that tradition has reserved for family members? What could we learn by opening our hearts in this way?

This isn’t just about Thanksgiving and Christmas, of course. It’s about opening our lives and selves up to each other every day of the year. But it’s especially important at these holidays when we tend to fold into our families and traditions, sometimes at the expense of those around us.

We have two things to gain when we let the holidays be about more than just family. As Matthias implies, it stops the suffocation. You know what I’m talking about—those questions that only surface after you’ve turned the lights out for the night, the ones that will keep you awake for hours. Is this it? Is this all life is? Where did I go wrong, to end up here? And as we open the doors and invite others in, something miraculous happens. Not only does our claustrophobia dissipate, but those around us find relief, too. (You didn’t think you’re the only one with problems, did you?) Together we are made whole.

Maybe the bravery and the opening looks like going home to your family this Christmas. Maybe it looks like inviting another family to join in your festivities. Maybe nothing changes this month. Maybe it doesn’t need to. I don’t think the holidays are broken. I just don’t think we have anything to lose by expanding the walls of our homes and the reach of our hearts.

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Note: I know that my experience with holidays doesn’t reflect the whole; I know people have radically different ways of celebrating these holy times, and I love that. I’m speaking from a limited and particular place in this world, I know.

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2 thoughts on “How We Spend the Holidays

  1. Especially as someone who’s spent multiple holidays with other people’s families due to being so far from home, I really appreciate this. It’s always refreshing to be with family in a place that feels familiar and homey, but there’s something really beautiful about being able to make a temporary family and temporary home out of the people near you.

    1. Yes, I’ve been that person too. I’m starting to realize how hard it can be to open up your family and traditions to “strangers”, so I am thankful for the families who have opened their homes to me.

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