I don't want to host Christmas this year. Bah humbug. But should I for the sake of my elderly parents? I have three siblings in their 50s and 60s. All are dysfunctional. There are several nieces and nephews who are in their teens and 20s. My parents are in their 80s. All together, there are 18 of us. I started hosting 15 years ago because it was getting too much for my mom. No one helps, ever! My husband, sons and I do everything. From shopping, prep, cooking and cleanup. I have tried getting them to bring stuff but none of them cook. Once, I asked my sister-in-law to bring dessert and she brought a whole, uncut watermelon. I asked my brother once to bring hors d'oeuvres but he arrived in the middle of dinner, too late to serve his frozen, store-bought appetizers, still in the box. The others think bringing a bag of chips is helpful. Getting them to RSVP is impossible, so I never know how many people are coming. One brother always complains about the meal. Some arrive late year after year. My sister always gets drunk and sits depressed in the corner. No one ever says thank you at the end of the evening. The only reason I continue to host is because it is important to my parents to see the family together. This year, I was hoping just to have my immediate family and my parents and exclude the rest of the gang. Should I just suck it up and tolerate them once again or should I put myself first and enjoy a simple, quiet, stress-free Christmas? If I opt to not invite them am I obligated to tell them there is no Christmas at my home this year?
I remember the birth of gratitude in my soul. My family had stayed with friends for a week. When the week was up, I sailed out of there, yelling over my shoulder: "Bye!"
My mother came flying out of the house, grabbed me (in my memory it was by the ear, but that might just have been my imagination) and said: "You march back in there, young man, and thank those people for everything they did for you."
And I remember thinking, mystified: "Yeah, they did do a bunch of stuff for me, didn't they?" Made me meals, filled my glass with orange juice and provided a roof over my head, possibly even did my laundry.
So I went inside and thanked them. And the act of thanking them made me feel grateful for all they'd done for me.
Now, I was, I think, about seven years old at the time. But I believe, to this day, whether you're 7 or 70, gratitude is something people need to be taught – and it sounds like that goes double for your family.
So yes: At the risk of courting controversy, I would not only put all the offending relatives in "the penalty box" this year, I would also issue an e-mail explaining why.
Just as an aside, maybe exempt the sister-in-law – simply because I don't think a watermelon is that bad a dessert…
But the other, late-arriving, frozen-hors-d'oeuvres/bag-of-chips-bearing, complaining relatives maybe need to be taught a little lesson in manners and appreciation.
Maybe send out a message saying: "You know what, we feel like we've been unappreciated for some time now." Say some of the same things you said to me. Itemize your beefs – in as non-controversial language as you can muster, of course.
Then say: "So this year, we're just going to do it with the parents." And then wish them all a lovely Christmas.
Let them chew on that – along with their bags of chips and frozen hors d'oeuvres – this year.
Of course, there could be friction. Of course, there could be backlash.
But it seems to me your family needs a collective wake-up call. Even beneficent, all-knowing Santa distinguishes between naughty and nice. Your family has clearly been naughty. Lumps of coal for them!
And, perhaps by this time of year next year, they'll have pulled up their Christmas stockings. And you can have them all back and they will contribute and be grateful and cheerful and festive and you'll feel appreciated for a change.
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