Family holidays tend toward complication in my extended family. That's just how it is. The flip side of it is that there is also a lot of laughter and music, good food and fun.
I admit I was more worried that usual about what complication might look like this year. Nine or ten months ago, my brother and his wife announced they were divorcing. Two weeks ago, my grandmother broke her hip and went through a week of hell in the hospital. My parents, upon whom the caregiving burden falls very heavily, had lost their senses of humour in the last few weeks.
My sister was hosting in her new house in Toronto, a beautiful house, well-suited for absorbing crowds. Plans ranged from "show up whenever you like" to "we must all wear red." We prepared food, wrapped gifts and set out, hearts in our throats, hoping for the best.
At the last minute, my brother's dog kennel cancelled his reservation for his Boxer. The dog made the trip and was accommodated in my other sister's basement, with hopes that he would Behave.
There was less drama than I feared. The conversation was somewhat scatological, thanks to my mom's hospital stories and my sister's tales of her three young kids. Dave woke up with a full-blown wicked cold and slept half the day away.
There was more joy than we dared to hope for. The dog did behave. My other sister brought Christmas crackers that contained musical horns, each set at a different pitch, and a songsheet to direct us in Christmas carols. Two people cleared the table, mid-song, so we had no notes 3 and 8. Note 5 thought it funny to play at random intervals. Note 2 - who was keen - had surprisingly few notes. Note 1 kept coughing. Note 4 stopped to eat and drink. Our gifts were appreciated and we appreciated the gifts we received. My sister, who is seven months pregnant, took my kids and hers swimming. My mom got a much-needed break, letting other people cook and tidy up. She got great gifts, really well-suited to who she is.
My brother, who talked of the neighbours he was meeting and the people he was getting to know in his work at a bank, spoke of how he had been struck repeatedly by the fact that, even within a family, every person had different values and priorities.
With minimal drama, that was perhaps what struck me most at Christmas. I wanted to be able to decide that my way was right, but I couldn't exactly. My siblings and I are sometimes drastically different in our priorities and choices. And, old sibling squabbles do break out if we spend terribly much time in close proximity to each other.
But, I thoroughly enjoyed having our different choices brush up against one another over Christmas. At times, I felt appalled and at other times envious. I got ideas from my sibs and saw them nod at some of my own. For days afterward, I was fascinated by the different measures of success we each use, the different priorities we have, even coming from the same family.
And yet...I have to admit that part of me heaved a sigh of relief to head for home, family Christmas successfully weathered for another year.