Yes, I mean families.
I've always heard, 'What you grow up with feels normal to you, but it doesn't mean that everyone else's family is like that.' Not wrong, just different.
I knew that but I don't think I really knew that. I think, deep down, I really believed that every family was like mine (or that every family should be like mine - or at least wanted to be like mine).
I come from a good size Italian family. It's not huge, but I have 3 sisters with their families, plus a host of aunts and uncles and cousins (not that we see them so much anymore, but in the past, especially when my grandmother was still alive, our holidays involved them much more).
Our holidays were never the serene moments around the dinner...eating on fine china, drinking from crystal glass, with a warm glow of candlelight. No, not our house.
When my family celebrates the holidays, it is typically chaotic. Not in a bad way, just in a ...well...loud way.
Our holidays usually involved a lot of busyness - visiting different aunts and uncles, people popping over unexpectedly, a lot of noise and energy, a lot of food ...sort of a open-house-free-for-all. The more, the merrier. Most years, my parents invited people they knew had no where else to go, so we always had this random assortment of company.
There were usually kids running around, dogs barking, loud talking to compete with the volume of the TV and other conversations, people coming and going. The table wasn't big enough for all of us, so it was usually pushed to one side and we ate buffet style, in different parts of the house. Usually just an informal celebration of sorts. The most formal thing we do is probably just say grace before the meal.
And I thought that was great - and that everyone wanted their holidays to be like that.
This year, I spent Christmas Day (and Thanksgiving as well) with James' family. It was different in a few ways:
First, it was smaller - just us, his parents, his sister, niece, and nephew (and one close family friend for Christmas).
It was quieter...the TV was on, but it was sort of just background. And for a while, it was just on the station that played Christmas music. A very serene atmosphere.
There was more ceremony and formality - First, for both holidays, we all sat around the table together. I can only remember a few holidays that we have done that at my house.
For Thanksgiving, we all shared something that we were thankful for. Then, his mom (which I couldn't help thinking of her as this wise matriarch of the family) went around to each family member (me included) and expressed why she was thankful for that person and just spoke these amazing words of life and encouragement (almost prophetically, it felt like). There were some tears shed, and it was definitely very moving.
For Christmas, instead of gifts, she and Tony (James' stepdad) wrote out these personalized prayers based on Scripture for each one of us, putting our names in the verse, and read them to us. It felt like she was passing on this spiritual legacy to us. (For James, it was Philippians 3:12-16; For me, it was Proverbs 31:10, 29-31). She included a picture of each of us and a Christmas card that she felt portrayed the verse. It was so special.
On the way home, James and I took the scenic route and just listened to Christmas music and took in all the Christmas lights. Then we just sat in his driveway quietly for a moment...sort of soaking in all the changes that will be taking place in the next few months.
It was fun to think about what the holidays will be for us next year. Being married. In our own home. The traditions we will start. Beginning a new branch of each of our family trees.
But it was bittersweet, too. I realized that this Christmas morning was the last time I would wake up in my parents' house and go upstairs and have breakfast with my sister and nephews. The realization hit me that next year, the holidays will be something different than what they have always been in the past. Not just how his family does it, not just how my family does it, but how WE will do it.
I'm sure it will include pieces of both...where we have come from has made us who we are. We bring that with us.
But as we two become one, something brand new will start as well. And we are both very aware of the magnitude of this new chapter we are beginning, the legacy we are creating - that is now in the making - the one we will pass on someday to our families.
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