By Lisa A. Listwa
Everyone has stories related to family celebrations.
You know the ones–they get told repeatedly, whether we like it or not.
Like the story of how my now sister-in-law got lost on the way to our wedding. Something had been forgotten and she was sent to retrieve it. She was from out of town, so how that made sense, I’ll never understand. It wasn’t until the ceremony was well underway that my husband or I had any idea she had still not returned. This mishap gets kicked up a notch when you add the part about how a few years later, I got lost on the way to her wedding. True story.
I often wonder if all families have tales to tell of Easter Sunday Specials, an affectionate term for any holiday gathering where a few uncles may or may not have ended up in a sort-of fist fight over something which likely seemed of major import at the time but perhaps now is long forgotten, and may or may not have punched a hole in a door. Do other families remember Rosh Hashanah Crying Jags where a handful of aunts may or may not have been offended because someone didn’t care for a gift and rather than quietly pursuing an exchange, made a semi-public statement of distaste?
I suspect we all have our roster of hilarious stories about babies falling asleep in their one-year-old birthday cakes, a best man losing track of the rings – or of the groom as was the case on my wedding day – or the inadvertently tipsy tee-totaling relative who didn’t know the punch was spiked.
Family celebrations come with their share of memories, whether fond or not. Some of the stories we tell are immediately funny; some only become funny years later. Family gatherings are akin to a visit to the dentist – that thing we know we should do and might even tolerate well, but wouldn’t really choose if we had our druthers. That’s more normal that not, I suspect.
Even amidst the fun and camaraderie, family gatherings teem with stress and anxiety. Will this cousin who hates that cousin say the wrong thing and rekindle the feud? Will someone misinterpret a gag gift as an insult? Will someone miss an event for whatever personal reason and end up on the permanent shit list for not showing up?
Admit it – there are days when the best part of the family celebration is the moment you finally get home, kick off your shoes, sit back with a cold one, and thank heaven that you didn’t actually punch anyone in the throat or say out loud what you were thinking in your head for most of the afternoon.
Maybe we can predict with relative certainty that a fight or two will arise. Perhaps we know there are some (not mentioning any names) people who just can’t be seated together at weddings and family reunions. But that is part of belonging to a family. No one is perfect and no one’s relatives are perfect – just ask anyone you know. They’ll be happy to tell you in detail about the failings and shortcomings of their next of kin.
So why do we keep torturing ourselves with scheduling and attending family celebrations?
Because underneath the drama (and often slapstick humor) lies something grand…
Families celebrate everything. We celebrate births and baptisms, First Holy Communions, Bar Mitzvahs, and Confirmations. We throw a party when someone in the family gets engaged or married – and sometimes we have a party when someone gets divorced. Hey, it happens.
We gather when a loved one dies to remember them, to honor the life they lived, and share the ways in which their life touched and affected our own.
It’s easy to get caught up in the customary and expected celebrations. It’s easy to get lost in the planning and fuss over colors and themes and the excruciating minutiae of details. I’m guilty of it – just recently I made sure my daughter’s galaxy-themed birthday party was the stuff of her dreams, right down to the very last star.
By the time anyone reads this, I will have celebrated another birthday myself. I will be another year older and – I hope – perhaps another year wiser. At the very least, I will have spent another year discovering myself, pursuing my dreams, and trying to graciously accept the appearance of another cluster of gray hair and the realization that my mother was, in fact, right about everything. I don’t really think too much about my birthday anymore. Most years it’s just the next day in a series of days.
But it shouldn’t be. No day should be just the next in a series of days. Nor should we wait for those special events or occasions that spawn family gatherings, blowout parties, and the inevitable humor and drama that accompany such celebrations.
Because underneath the drama and the humor is something grand.
It’s connection, comfort, and unconditional love. It’s the telling and re-telling of all those stories that, for better or worse, make up our shared history. It’s the knowledge that we are part of something and that we belong to someone – to a whole package of someones – who will show up to celebrate with us, no matter what the occasion.
Yeah, they’ll bring their baggage. But most days they’ll put it down long enough to enjoy a piece of cake.
And in between those special occasions and major celebrations, we need to remember to celebrate life on regular days. Celebrate every day and for every reason. Celebrate each miserable, frustrating, joyous, and blessed moment of it. Celebrate because every moment is indeed something grand.
Lisa A. Listwa is a self-employed writer with experience in education, publishing, and the martial arts. Believing there was more to life than punching someone else’s time clock and inspired by the words of Henry David Thoreau, she traded her life as a high school educator for a life as a freelance writer and never looked back. She is mother to one glorious handful of a daughter, wife to the nicest guy on the planet, and reluctant but devoted owner of three rotten cats. She spends her time stacking the pile of books to read ever higher, wondering if she should have been a chef, and trying to figure out where she last left her damn cell phone. In addition to an eclectic mix of works in progress, Lisa also writes about life, its banalities, and the beauty of living deliberately on her blog, The Meaning of Me.