Christmas, for me, is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ and renew my heart. No matter your faith, for most people this time of year is about family. December could be dubbed "National Family Month.” We plan parties, gatherings, dinners, and outings just to spend time together. And though Christmas time is a time to share our love for family, it can also be a time for feelings of loneliness and depression. Because our insecurities, perceived failures, and unmet family expectations can come to the surface in a tangle of tinsel and lights. I spent the Christmas season like this for many years. .Maybe some of you can relate.
I grew up in a loving family that LOVED Christmas! Every Christmas Eve my mom's side of the family got together at my grandma's or my aunt's house. There would be laughter, crying, fighting, running around, and lots of food and wrapping paper. These are some of the best memories I have of my childhood, but my insecurities always lived on the flip side of my joy over Christmas with my family.
You see, my cousins are gorgeous. All my female cousins are thin and model beautiful. They have glowing unblemished skin and always look like they’re dressed for the runway. My male cousins are quite handsome too, but women tend to compare themselves to other women, so that was my focus. The men of the family also brought their beautiful thin girlfriends to our Christmas parties, so there was just way too much pretty for my fat insecure self. I was even slightly jealous of my cousins who always seemed to have such a close relationship. I wanted a bond like that with someone in my family. Looking back, I am glad they had each other to lean on through a lot of difficult times. From what I can see, those bonds helped them through.
So, I would sit and listen to how wonderful their lives were and I would try to make my life sound just as exciting. I did not lie, per se, but I embellished the truth on more than one occasion. Sometimes I would just stay silent. As I got older, my insecurities grew.
Then my pop pop passed away. He was a huge part of our family but I don't think we really understood how much he meant to all of us until he wasn't there anymore. After that, we moved Christmas Eve around to different places for a couple of years. Getting together just did not feel right without him there. Honestly, at first, my grief overshadowed my insecurities, but eventually my feelings of inadequacy resurfaced. Then after a few years we moved our family Christmas gathering to my house.
I have mentioned that I love to throw parties, but having my mom's side of the family over to my house was a huge pressure for me. For example, I love my grandma and she is a very special woman, but she reminds me of a milder version of Emily Gilmore from the Gilmore Girls. Throw in the perfect cousins and BAM! My self-doubts came rushing back in full force. So, in true Jenn fashion, I threw myself into creating a magical, picture perfect Christmas party. I spent days cleaning and decorating everything to perfection. I would prepare enough food for an army and agonize over the right clothes to wear. When party night arrived I could barely move.
Most years, even though I enjoyed my family, I really just wanted to go upstairs and hide in my bed and cry. But I smiled through the pain and no one was the wiser. Each year I listened to stories of new homes, jobs, weddings and babies. I just kept serving food and smiling, but inside I was dying. Of course I was happy for them all and I love them all, but I remember a time or two when it was especially difficult to share in their joy. I was trying really hard to get pregnant and people in my life were getting pregnant easily.. I was so happy for them and wanted the best for them, but a small part of me felt sad, envious, and broken. Another time the family was ecstatic because one of my cousins was marrying a Marine. Believe me, I love my husband and would never trade him in for all the Marines in the world, but it was the whole idea of having the "perfect" life that I was stuck in. I just always felt like an outsider.
The truth is, my family never did anything outwardly to make me feel this way. My sadness came from constantly comparing and looking at the world from behind the masks of insecurity I wore .
Over the past year I’ve worked hard to remove those masks and appreciate myself for who I am. I realize how silly I was being. I love my family. Besides my faith, family is everything to me. Two years ago, I took a different approach to our annual family Christmas party. I decided that if the house was not perfect, life would go on. I decided that I was going to make my family yummy food not to impress them, but because I love to make people happy and feed them! Remember, I am Italian; it’s in the blood. Once I took off the mask and decided to relax I had real fun! I really listened to my family and enjoyed their conversations. Did they notice the change? Maybe, maybe not, but I noticed it. I felt true joy for the first time being with my family. I only have two regrets, and they are that everyone in my family cannot make it to our celebration every year, and that it took so long for me to get out of my own way and really enjoy my family.
This Christmas, remember that you are worthy of respect and love. Understand that no matter how perfect someone else’s life looks on the surface, it is never that perfect when you look closer. Heck, your own family members could be envying your life and thinking it is perfect—I know, crazy right? Relax and enjoy yourself during this most wonderful time of the year! Take a walk in a winter wonderland, or do something else to help you focus on the best things about family and friends during the holiday season. And honestly, if yours is a critical or truly abusive family then choose which events you’ll attend wisely. Maybe even give yourself permission to skip a couple—gasp!
‘Tis the season for family, so embrace it and enjoy it! Rock around your Christmas tree! And if you start to hum "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" while hugging certain relatives, remind yourself that they’ll go home eventually, leaving you to have a silent night. I’ve stepped out from behind the masks of self-doubt to have a holly jolly Christmas each year, and you can too! When you love and appreciate you, there really is no place like home for the holidays!