It’s that time of the year again when the soul holiday big box store commercials are in rotation featuring black families waking up before the break of day to prepare yams and baked mac and cheese while James Ingram plays in the background. At least they managed to keep the Electric Slide out of the kitchen so I’m not all the way offended by the blatant stereotyping. If it’s not that, it’s the reminders on social media of all the cousins flying home from college, the pecan pie that Aunt Loretta spent a whole 24 hours and three Pinterest boards prepping for her nieces and whatever boyfriends they bring by this year because it’s her turn to host Thanksgiving. All these things are repeated reminders of holiday celebrations that don’t look a whole lot like my own. We don’t need to take turns hosting dinner because half of my family members wouldn’t recognize me if I sat next to them on the train. Dinner literally takes a few hours because there’s only a few people who will be gathered around the table: the people who support and love me each and every day.
Don’t get me wrong I’m looking forward to some much-needed time off from work, and sitting down with my husband and daughter, my parents and my older sister to break bread. It’s a time to talk and actually spend time together outside of quick rants about work when I pick up my daughter through the hustle and bustle of the rest of the year. Besides, my childhood memories of holidays at Grandma’s house looked nothing like a Will Power Packer production. When cousins, aunts and uncles gathered it was always a few initial pleasantries: hugs, some conversation about who graduated, who’s pregnant, who’s got a new job. But like a plot from a predictable Hallmark movie it wasn’t too long after the foil got wrapped around the first few take home plates before someone was drunk, fighting, arrested or cussing someone out. My family could barely get through my Grandfather’s repast before reenacting a scene from Creed in the reception hall. As a teen and now an adult it began to make more and more sense to me why my mother preferred quiet holidays in her own home free from drama. To this day she is happiest in her kitchen, listening to Patti Labelle on the Bluetooth speaker with her little chihuahua running around her ankles. Now that I am an adult with my own little family, I find myself adopting those same familiar feelings. I am no rush to run out for Black Friday because I figure if my own extended family can’t even get through peach cobbler without fighting like a Love and Hip-Hop reunion, how the hell can I expect to manage navigating a mall full of strangers?
I say all this to repeat the message that I often express each year. We live in a world where the most attractive moments of everyone’s lives are just a scroll away, and chain stores will repeatedly try to convince us for the next few weeks that a blender or corn bread stuffing will have you Cupid Shuffling into a happy holiday. However, when it comes to truly enjoying this time of year, should you choose to celebrate, you have to cherish and appreciate your unique traditions for what they are. If you and all 13 of your cousins can get through an UNO game and a bottle of moonshine without killing each other that’s awesome. But if peace of mind and fulfillment are as simple as Tatyana Ali saving the family bakery and falling in love at Christmas on the Hallmark Channel, a glass of wine and new PJs, that’s cool too. To me the holidays are a time of respite from the reality of day to day of crowded commutes and pointless office meetings and a chance to tap into what truly brings you comfort and joy. There’s no official rule that says you’re doing any kind of injustice by not surrounding yourself with a ton of toxic family members, people you barely know or like and a Jackson 5 playlist so you can fill some kind of proper holiday quota. The holidays should be a time of happiness, and anything that doesn’t fit in that description shouldn’t have to be forced in your plans.
The other day a friend of mine posted a quote about tradition that read, “Tradition has been keeping people unhappy for ages.” Somewhere right now, someone is dreading showing up to a dinner they’ve RSVP’d to because they know they’ll have to be awkwardly interrogated like they’re sitting in front of the Feds and not family: “Why you still have those locs in your head? You still with that wannabe rapper? When you gonna stop that art stuff and find yourself a real job? Stop that vegan nonsense and put some of these ribs on that plate.” While it’s normal to witness a little dysfunction and clap backs at family gatherings, you shouldn’t have to get your peace of mind and well-being stomped on a few times a year just to have some cornbread stuffing and ham with Aunt Loretta. If your traditions make you feel more cold and stressed than warm and fuzzy, it might be time to revisit the idea of what they really mean to you. If Pina Coladas on a solo trip to Panama sound more inviting to you this year than Friendsgiving with people you only engage with on Facebook, you might want to decline that invite and book that flight.
With the holidays often come expectations, and while many people’s plans exceed their vision of what specific days on the calendar should look like, it’s important to remember that if the day doesn’t exactly include you and your siblings doing the electric slide to the dinner table, that’s cool too. The relationships that are often the most important are with the people who show up on the other 350 something days of the calendar that don’t obligate them to do so and those whose company you actually enjoy. After all the holidays are supposed to be “happy”, regardless of what Target is telling you that should look like.
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.