Chances are if you’re reading this, it’s because you’re alive and, if you’re alive, you are the daughter or son of someone. You’re probably also the wife, the lover, the partner, the best friend, the mother, father, sister or brother to somebody out there. And since you came from a fellow human, you’ve celebrated a holiday or two in your day. And during your days/years of having to go to family get-togethers to break bread or sing happy birthday or holiday songs around the fire, I’m pretty certain you’ve looked at yourself in the mirror at least one time during your entire blessed time on this earth, stared intently into your own eyes in the mirror and thought: “To hell with this. I am NOT GOING. Not this time.”

But if like me, you’re really bad at letting people down, even if it means sacrificing your very self, chances are you went anyway. Against your better judgment and with no real reason other than good old-fashioned guilt, I’m sure you got in your car and drove in the snow, slush, rain or cold to sit around with the family you were born into, whether you like them all or not to “celebrate” the holidays.

Oy vey, what fun, what unbridled joy and happiness fills your body.

I know you can absolutely relate to what I’m saying. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones reading this, and you haven’t the foggiest idea about what it is I’m going on about. The holidays for you were and continue to be overflowing with love, peace and unity. You are one of the lucky few who comes from solid sane stock. Everybody gets along, everybody takes turns speaking, nobody drinks too much or acts or speaks inappropriately. Your family is all kind to one another, and there is nobody left out or at odds with anybody.

That sounds like pure heaven to me.

I wouldn’t even know what to do with a family like that. You see, I come from a large German/Romanian family and, at our family get-togethers, they always ended the same: “He who yelled the loudest the longest won.”

We kids – there were nine cousins – didn’t know how verbally aggressive our family was because we were too busy running around playing hide-and-go-seek and truth-or-dare, or making up dances and acting out our favourite movie scenes to pay attention to what the adults were doing.

It wasn’t until I got older, when my parents broke up once and for all, that I came to realize that not all families were loud and opinionated like mine. The more time I spent with other kids from school and their families, the more I realized that mine was just a little bit dysfunctional.

And as I grew into a young adult with a family of my own, it was only then that I realized that nothing was set in stone. Not all kids had dads who were alcoholics. Nowhere was it written that just because it was a holiday that I had to spend it with the extended family members my father’s infidelity and subsequent second marriage had thrust upon me. If there was somebody I didn’t get along with or who I felt became too abusive when drunk, it was within my right to protect myself and my three daughters by opting out of the family gathering. We as individuals have every right to decide who we spend our precious time with. And our priority should be to make sure that those we give of ourselves freely to are worthy of having us in their lives.

Then as time went on, and my friend group expanded but days became fuller and time became more precious and valuable, it became clear that I had little to nothing in common with cousins who I had once been so close to. The same for aunts and uncles who were related through marriage; after my relative had passed on, the need to continue the relationship with their partner no longer seemed mandatory. When I let go of the “I should” or “I have to because” rules for who I spent the holidays with, I started to give myself permission to say no and to close my circle. And when I did this, the most wonderful thing happened. I began to enjoy not only the Christmas season but all the other special holidays. I released my child’s guilt that used to motivate me to put my own wishes aside in order to do right by everybody else in my family circle. I decided to instead live my life in ways that were authentic and true for me, not simply out of a sense of obligation.

These days, sometimes for the holidays, it is just the six of us, my husband, our three girls and our son-in-law. Other times we will celebrate with the “family we’ve chosen” or with my mom, her husband and my aunt and her hubby. It’s never the same. But the one thing it always is now:  it is exactly as I and my little family unit want it to be: nothing forced, nothing contrived, just people recognizing that just because a day has been governed as a “holiday” does not mean that we should put our own comfort, inner peace and self-love aside just to please others. The holidays come around but once a year. Make sure you live them in the same way you would any other day of your life, listening to what your spirit needs and honouring your boundaries.

Merry Merry and Happy Happy, friends!

This story was originally published on Dec. 17, 2018