Okay, okay, I am un-American…

Or am I?  We decided to break away from our traditional family gathering and head to the beach instead.  No problem, right? Wrong.

Traditions and perceptions of traditions are very, very weighty issues. Let me try to explain.  If you are born in the South, and you have a big family, and you cook, and you have birthed “grandchildren,”  then you go home for the holidays. If you don’t, this is almost grounds for stoning or disowning. Or both.

No one told me this. It is just what I have always perceived as truth. It is after all, the point of traditions. You do it the same way every year. From Hallmark to relatives’ comments and expectations, there is a credo of family rituals.  This credo is sometimes spoken of kindly or demanded at all costs.  Sometimes it is communicated in a cold, silent chill.  Attached to this credo is a guilt-producing factor that rings something like, “This ritual is a way of showing appreciation and love for your family.”

I don’t think I really got all this until I decided to forego the credo.  The pit in my stomach as I thought about telling my family that I wouldn’t be there was a great revealer of both the credo and my willing buy-in. But as I wrestled through this drama, I realized just how crazy all this pressure is.  The duty, the obligation, the guilt, the strain — it simply doesn’t add up.

For example, my friend is from Ohio and she doesn’t want to go home. So maybe it isn’t a Southern thing. My other friend has a big family and she’s not going home.  So maybe it isn’t a big family thing.   All of us have children (read grandchildren), but we are seeing their grandmas and grandpas at other special times. And the cooking thing, well, they don’t have Sister Schubert rolls for nothing.

What are we all doing instead of going home for Thanksgiving?  Being quiet, resting, spending time with “our” families. That doesn’t sound so evil does it?

Sure you don’t want to miss out on family gatherings every year. But you sure don’t want to go (and be miserable) just so you can check off a box. Maybe — just maybe — the credo has bullied us around long enough. What did my family do when I told them?  They said they would miss us. No threats, no dramas, no manipulation. That was all in my head. I know for some that would not be the reaction. For some it is downright emotional blackmail. But we always have a choice.

Here is the Scripture the Lord gave me:  “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, than a fattened calf with hatred.”  I love my family, and they love me. Of course we will miss each other. But when I finally got the guts to tell them that I was breaking out of the mold, I felt really free. Free like I had actually chosen to love.

I chose to love “my” family by investing real down time with them. I chose to love my extended family by being honest —”I am tired and need a break.”  Besides, I wouldn’t be doing my family any favors by going out of duty and obligation. I chose to love myself by tending to my own heart instead of stuffing everything and pretending to play along.   And my own kids? They are learning that there are lots of ways to celebrate and be thankful.

Isn’t that the whole point?  To be thankful?  So take yourself off the hook. Use your voice and your spine if that is what it takes. And Be Real. . . Real about what you can and can’t do. Real about what you really need. Real about being thankful. Be thankful for times together and times apart.  One of my mom’s favorite verses is from Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for every season.”

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. I know I will.

2 thoughts on “Okay, okay, I am un-American…

  1. Jana,
    Thank you for saying what so many of us are thinking. I am making a big trip with my family because I want to this year, but I can relate to the obligated feelings to certain family traditions as well. Hope you have a great time at the beach!

  2. Jana:
    Loved what you wrote. So many times we are just trapped by traditions. I have tried so hard to free my kids up to do what they need to do and not do guilt trips. Enjoy the beach girl.

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