I wish I could recapture the thrill of Christmas when I was a kid. I used to get so excited when I knew it was time for the Holidays. And yes, a big chunk of that was the presents. But it was also seeing my family all gathered together. I loved to visit my grandparents on Christmas. On Christmas Eve day , we would almost always go to my mother's parents first, and have either a late breakfast or an early lunch. My grandmother's biscuits were the best in the world, and I can taste them to this day, even though I've not had them in over a decade. After that, we'd go to my father's parents, where the grandkids would all be together, playing, chattering, getting into trouble and generally enjoying catching up with each other. I was closer to my cousins when I was a kid than I was to most of my friends, and they all lived a goodly distance away, so that I didn't see them very often. At my dad's parents on Christmas Eve was where I learned to love salty ham and marshmellow-soaked sweet potatoes, an aunt's fudge and my mother's carrot cake. The day was a lot of fun and I'd always go home exhausted.
Then, on Christmas day, we'd get up early, open presents (always fun), play with everything for a bit, and then go back to mom's parents for the day, and I'd catch up with my cousins on that side. I was never as close to them for some reason, even though they lived closer. I was always drawn to my youngest aunts on mom's side, since they were the closest to me in age, for the most part. Heck, mom's youngest sister is young enough for people to think she's MY little sister. So, it's no surprise that I was always bugging mom's three youngest siblings.
That was Christmas for me as a kid. Of course, I'm leaving out all the bad stuff, the snapping and sniping of my parents, ostensibly over money but in truth over the fact that mom was depressed on Christmas and didn't know it or how to deal with it. The frustration of my dad as he tried to deal with this and the less savory elements of both his blood relations and his in-laws. The snarkiness of said relations over the years. But these things either went unnoticed by my childhood self or else they were fleeting annoyances on the road to Christmas bliss.
But as I got older, and mom's parents passed away, things just seemed to get worse. The visits to mom's parents, obviously, went away, and no tradition grew up in it's place. Mom's family seemed to splinter, to my eye. Thanksgiving and Christmas were the outward symbols of the bonds they shared through their parents. With those parents gone, it seemed like there was no reason to get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas as a large family anymore. And that was a problem, because mom's family needs regular get-togethers, because they have such different views. You see, mom and her two oldest sisters are Baby Boomers. Her three brothers span the time from the tag-end of the Baby Boomers through the middle of Generation X. Her three youngest sisters go from the middle of Generation X through the beginning of Generation Y. This kind of generational span gives them all very different views of the world and outlooks on life. So their getting together on a regular basis was important, to reaffirm the very real and strong bonds of fraternity and sorority that they shared. With the death of mom's parents, those meetings went away, and her family started to fracture. Over time, particularly as the brothers age, this is starting to reverse itself, and lo and behold, they are starting to get together again for the holidays, although not like when I was a kid.
As to dad' family, well, I've spoken about them before, so there's no need to get into that again. Suffice it to say that as I got older, they seemed less and less appealing as a group. Most of them are great people who are worth spending time with, but as they say, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. And there's a couple bad apples, from my perspective, in dad's bunch. That makes me sad, because I miss the fun I used to have there at Christmas time.
On top of all this, I'm pretty sure I'm developing the same habit of Christmas Depression that my mother apparently struggled with when I was a kid. It's understandable, I suppose. The shopping, the cooking, the decorating, the travelling, etc. etc. etc. It's all stressful, and high stress triggers mood swings in me. It probably did the same for her. I find myself getting cranky easily, staring off into the distance for no reason, going from being emotionally warm to cold in the space of a few minutes, all the signs of my disorder, only writ larger. I fight this as hard as I can, because Christmas used to be a joyous time for me, and with the loved ones I have now, both friends and family, and especially my beautiful wife to spend it with, I want Christmas to be a joyous time for me again. But my medicine and all the little techniques I've developed over the last year just aren't enough right now, for some reason. Maybe it's the decrease in sunlight, maybe it's all the overtime at work, maybe it's just that I'm freakin' tired and need a rest. I don't know.
What I do know is that I am trying my hardest to not ruin things for everyone else. I can't stand the thought that I'm in some way bringing everyone else down. I know I've done that in the past, maybe not at Christmas, but at some joyous time or another, I've been an absolute ass in response to my extreme moodiness, and I don't want to do that anymore. It's a struggle, and I have a feeling it's only going to get worse, before it gets better, assuming it ever does.