That was the question each year. What to call a family gathering held between Thanksgiving and Christmas? In the end, it didn’t matter. The changes that prompted those gatherings united our family in a way that nothing else ever has.
For several years, our daughter prepared holiday meals while we drove to a nursing home 150 miles away. We picked up my parents, so they could join my husband and me, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren for the family celebrations. These gatherings truly defined our family holidays, but each year the time with us grew shorter before they tired and needed to be taken home.
We made the trip regardless of traffic or weather, because no one else could. Our children had small children and vehicles that weren’t large enough or weren’t adequate for long distance travel. I also had no brothers or sisters to share the responsibility. Fortunately, I have a very understanding husband, Michael, who gladly shared my responsibilities. We drove five hundred miles in one day on every holiday for four years.
We never considered not making the trip, because we knew what it meant to them. Although we had room for guests at our house, we understood their desire to sleep in their own bed. The presence of the nurses and familiar surroundings became more important with each passing year. One year, I realized Dad was struggling to last through the meal before asking to go home.
Inevitably, the day came that they couldn’t make the journey. The long ride was too tiring for their failing health. Mom and Dad assumed that decision meant the end of sharing holidays with the family, and I heard the sadness in their voices. They knew we’d visit, but they knew the trip to the nursing home was extremely difficult for the grandchildren and their families.
Our children were devastated when I told them their grandparents could no longer endure the holiday travel. They wanted to share holidays with their grandparents as much as my parents wanted to share it with them. The obvious solution was for us to go to them, although this decision created a completely new set of logistical problems due to vehicles, school schedules, pets, and food preparation.
Because of other extended family members, our children needed to be home on the actual holiday. Therefore, we decided to pick a weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas and roll the celebration into one event. That was the year discussions began about what to call this gathering. Michael suggested a gathering encompassing both holidays had to blend the names too. One family voted for Thanksmas. The other voted for Chrisgiving. In the end, we called it both at different times.
The nursing home provided a lovely guesthouse with a living room and kitchen for our family gatherings. We were even allowed to bring our dog and our own food, to make it a real home-style holiday. My husband and I made other holiday visits, but Thanksmas, or Chrisgiving, became the main holiday gathering for the next four years. We made the five hundred mile journey for a total of eight years.
During the last four years, other changes also began to take place. I invited everyone to our house on the holiday while our grandchildren were little, to save the young mothers the hassles of entertaining while dealing with babies and toddlers. I envisioned creating a family tradition that would last until I became too old to do the honors. However, as the young families grew, they wanted to want to make their own plans and do their own entertaining. I missed hosting these family events, but I understood.
We settled on gathering at our house on Thanksgiving, and Michael and I started a new tradition of visiting each child’s family on Christmas day. We understood the difficulties of dragging children away from home on Christmas morning, as well as their obligations to other extended family members.
Eventually, Michael and I moved out of state, and we reinstituted Thanksmas. Now, we make our pilgrimages between Thanksgiving and Christmas to avoid major travel days. Our children and grandchildren still live near each other and occasionally share holiday meals. Other times, they have separate plans. Still other times, no one agrees on what to plan. Holiday celebrations haven’t been the same since my folks died, and I really miss that unity.
Everyone came together for my parents, regardless of other plans. No one ever opted out. There was no need to discuss when, or how, we would celebrate. Of course, those celebrations would have changed as the grandchildren grew up, even if my parents still shared our lives. Nevertheless, the unquestioned stability of our Thanksmas celebrations (or was this a Chrisgiving?) remain a favorite memory.
Now, we move toward even more changes because my physical limitations and health preclude travel during the holidays and our children’s schedules don’t allow it either. I can only wonder how it will evolve and face each year with the knowledge that it will be different. I choose to think positive, because I know my attitude will help determine whether it’s a sad event or a wonderful memory.