Looking back on the holidays, I accept the sadness that comes from being around my family. They’re good people—not sick or addicted or belligerent in the ways we normally might think. But they’re fundamentalist Christians and I’m not. So there’s always this huge gap between what we think and feel individually and what we can actually talk about or do when we’re together.
Which, fortunately, only happens one or two times a year. And even then, when we gather at our mom’s house (our dad died back in 2004), there are uncomfortable moments like when they all join hands to pray and I’m standing there thinking how bizarre it is to pray. Or when they start to say something like “Have a blessed day,” and I’m thinking loudly how much I don’t appreciate having them cast their voodoo on me.
It’s a warm fuzzy experience to gather at your parental home with your siblings to enjoy the reliving of Christmases past, to create yet another memory, to see and hear from people you’ve known since they were born. Shared experiences over the years form a strong foundation for deep emotion and poignant moments. We can talk about our early days, where we lived, what happened that summer when we went to California, or various aunts and uncles and their particular weirdness.
Aside from family history, the range of topics thins out drastically. We fuss over the turkey and green beans, substituting meal preparation for understanding and acceptance. Politics is definitely off the table. Absolutely no discussion of religion. Or really even our expectations for what the coming year might bring.
We do occasionally veer off into one or another verboten topic and find ourselves red-faced in the effort to make the other person(s) understand a different point of view. Sometimes even that doesn’t work. After learning that everyone but one sister voted for Donald Trump, I had to completely excuse myself from their company for the entire holiday season of 2016.
I have plenty of friends who share my world view, and three children of my own who, along with me and their father, think and live like modern adults. I wish the same for my siblings and their children, although I’m not deluded enough to think that they’ll give up their hellfire-and-brimstone view of the world. I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours I’ve spent trying to understand why any educated (and they are highly educated) and intelligent people could cling to the belief system that brought us things like burning witches at the stake, but there you have it.
Ultimately, family members are not very different from anyone else in the world. We can live alongside them without conflict as long as neither of us try to tell the other what to do. We can share what we have in common and avoid the topics and activities that highlight our differences. It’s a lesson I relearn every year.