For about as long as I can remember, and maybe even before then, the holidays were a time of eating until you couldn’t walk straight and ripping through presents with wilful abandon. My siblings and I would fast on Christmas Eve day to prepare for our seven-course meal at my paternal grandmother’s house. She made this spectacular lobster tomato sauce that I would enjoy in multiple helpings. It was followed by platters of calamari and lobster tails and meatballs. We would sit at the table until everyone was tipsy on good wine or until the youngest of our cousins would fall into tears over the very real possibility that they would get home after Santa.
Now, the youngest of our cousins is twelve. She wears mascara and wants to talk about James Charles’ new palette from BH Cosmetics, not Calico Critters or the latest Nintendo game. My older brother is twenty-six, and spends more time with his girlfriend than with any of us. I am twenty-three and moving out of my parent’s apartment in two weeks. My maternal grandfather is no longer with us and my paternal grandmother no longer wants to labor in the kitchen all day.
This was the first Christmas where the magic of the holiday season didn’t outweigh the stress our family was feeling. For so long it felt like our problems were put on pause during the fourty-eight hours of Christmas. But this year, we fought and bickered until we got to my grandmother’ house, bickered after opening presents, and bickered after the guests left on Christmas day. I fell asleep on the 25th with a profound heaviness and a feeling that something had changed.
It’s not that we’re especially dysfunctional. I would say that we’re moderately, normally, dysfunctional. My siblings and I fight over sibling things — did Olivia take my shoes? Did my brother even read my wishlist? But this year the fights felt bigger and worse. I didn’t understand why my own anger would linger. I am a person who hates holding grudges and is generally good about forgiving people. But this year, the holidays somehow made me…less forgiving. I was angry. Angry that my grandfather wasn’t here. I was angry that I didn’t have enough money to buy everyone the gifts I felt they deserved. I was angry that things were changing. I don’t like change, especially in my family — we are deeply rooted in tradition. But was it reasonable to expect that things wouldn’t change? We were different. Our family dynamic was different. Not even the holidays could change that.
My family is my world, and fighting with them left me emotionally drained. The past few days have been a time of much-needed recovery. Yesterday, I took my twelve year old cousin to Glossier and bought her a moisturizer. I had forgotten I had agreed to do it, and her text yesterday morning was quite literally the only thing that could get me out of bed. I’ve struggled with feelings of depression and anxiety before, but this was the first time I felt it nearly impossible to get out of bed. I would sit up, determined to put my makeup on. But then I would collapse back into bed with a weight on my shoulders. I considered cancelling on her, but then I remembered the way she had looked at me when I had promised her that I would buy her something from her favorite store.
I ended up buying her the Priming Moisturizer, and took the time to walk her through all of the products in the store, most of which she already owned. She was so eager to understand, and it felt good to teach her about something I had for so long enjoyed in private. We walked home and made mac N cheese and watched The Food Network. When I dropped her off, I told her that I would take her to another store of her choosing the next time she was in New York. It would be our new holiday tradition, one that we couldn’t do before.
Growing up at the holidays is a scary thing. It means coming to terms with the things that are changing, and the things that are going to change. But it also can lead to something wonderful, like sharing a passion with someone new. The day with my cousin came at the perfect time — my lowest point. I was thinking about leaving, moving away, running away, anything to escape the turmoil I was feeling with my family. But one afternoon was enough to change that.