My Dad's Side
Southern, alcoholic, and super disfunctional is how I'd describe them. Yet, my grandmother and grandfather made major efforts to celebrate holidays when we were kids.
Each Christmas Eve my grandparents' three boys, their wives and all of the grandchildren would have dinner together. The kids would be treated to a visit from Santa Claus who passed out gifts. We would all open our gifts from my grandparents together.
It wasn't just Christmas, either. There were egg hunts on Easter, fireworks for the Fourth of July and every Thanksgiving was spent in their kitchen.
As we got older, the visits from Santa stopped, but we still got together. Then, when I was 15, my grandfather passed away. This changed holidays forever for me. They were not changed just because I missed my grandfather who I loved a great deal, but because my grandmother lost part of herself.
She stopped taking care of herself. She sunk deeper into alcoholism and addiction to tobacco. She certainly didn't clean.
For the first few years after grandpa passed away, the grandkids would come over the day before a holiday and clean her house so that it was acceptable. By the year I went to college, these efforts were abandoned as impossible since she kept indoor pets afflicted with fleas and made no efforts to exterminate the cockroaches that filled her cabinets.
My Mom's Side
Although my mom's side of the family is the "Mormon side," most of the holidays, even the religiously based ones, were not celebrated there. The one exception was Christmas Day.
Each Christmas Day the entire family gathered together. My mom has five brothers and sisters giving my grandparents 17 grandchildren. Together we would have a nice dinner, play with our cousins, visit and always there was a session of picking on someone by my parents.
Invariably, I was the target of this "picking" session. I know that it was just teasing, but I always hated it. I don't know why I didn't flee the scene. I tried to stick up for myself, but it never worked out. Eventually, I'd just call attention to the fact that someone else hadn't been picked on today... and the focus would shift to them, instead.
The family gets together once each summer these days, when those who live out of state make an annual pilgramage home to visit their mom (my grandfather passed away while I was in college). We don't make as big a party as we might, since many of the grandkids don't make it to these gatherings. Nevertheless, I do like to get together with my Mormon family... and see whose turn it is to be picked on.
I know that holidays are important to kids. They are a way to mark the changing of the seasons. They give opportunity for fun and social interaction. I certainly plan to carry on the tradition set by my paternal grandparents of making holidays a fun time for my family. I hope that it won't end the way it has for my grandmother.
Although I viewed it as getting "picked on" at the time, I now realize that those conversations at my maternal grandparents' home were actually a great way for them to get to know us better. My parents were actually just goading us into talking about ourselves... they were so successful (I certainly never stopped talking about myself!).
I see these two sides of my family as two important parts of a tradition... ceremonial trappings & the heart that goes with them. I'm glad to have balanced it out, in the end.