As we approach the holiday season, I usually start thinking about the Dickensian themes of love, family and good will towards my fellow man. And then I remember that I know a lot of people who found their families not by being born into them, but by collecting them through the years.
Most people don’t know this, but Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol helped reinvent Christmas in 1843. The book helped change it into the family-centred secular holiday that we know and enjoy today, which involves charity to others, large meals, gifts and games. This launched a Christmas revival in Britain and the United States. But a question gnaws at some friends and me every year: what is family, and who is part of ours?
I come from a small town in the Interior that, despite all its aesthetic charm, really has nothing. Absolutely nothing, except in some cases the horror of small-town trivialities and dysfunctional family trauma. And so I and a lot of my high school friends have moved here or to Vancouver for school, and I keep meeting them in the oddest places along the Coast; the SkyTrain in Vancouver, for example.
I met with a number of them recently and discussed Christmas. As we compared childhood horror stories, one of these friends told me that during Christmas visits she would usually end up working through three bottles of gin under her bed two days after arriving. She, like me, will spend two days experiencing the comfortable romanticism of childhood memories. After that, we are exposed to the traumatic reality of our dysfunctional families. Another friend of mine has a similar problem, but was unofficially adopted by some former co-workers he met while working at a restaurant when he and I were going to college together. He visits them first whenever he comes into town.
Talking with friends from home, I concluded that family is not something that we are born with. It is something we either find or earn in our time on Earth. Some people are born and find their families right away (that’s rather convenient isn’t it? Lucky buggers). Others find it in friends, at school, at work, while backpacking abroad or through some other serendipitous life event. Sometimes it happens all at once, or sometimes we collect them like tastefully chosen formal and party clothes we pick up at various markets, fairs and second-hand stores. As someone who loves to dive into little hole-in-the-wall places and discover things, I find that sometimes that is the best source of anything.
This coming Christmas season, skip the visit from the dead business partner and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. If there is something you need to change as part of your Christmas or your life, don’t wait and see if things get better on their own. You’ll just end up with a neglected and forgotten tombstone that people will only visit if there is a free lunch. But that is only a shadow of things that might be, and can be changed. Keep the spirit of the season with you all the year through, and if you need to, keep searching for people to share that with. Family is something we find, either in our past or present, or in events yet to come. God bless us, every one.