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Freaky Family Christmas Joy and How to Survive It!


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Maria Garabis Davis - published on 12/01/15

The Irish-Puerto Rican gatherings get loud; throw in some cocktails and they become downright rowdy

Riddle me this: What do a hipster, an economist and a car-insurance salesman have in common?

Answer: They will all be sitting around my Christmas table.

If variety is the spice of life, I don’t think my family could get any spicier, and credit goes to my parents. Though both from small families (my dad one of three, my mom one of two), they took the creation of a clan very seriously. As in nine kids seriously.  

Adding to our freak-dom, we came from two very distinct cultural backgrounds. My dad moved to Detroit from Puerto Rico to attend college in the ’60s. My Irish mother, who was raised in England, arrived by boat when she was 11 to the great and prosperous land of opportunity (i.e., Cleveland, Ohio). Our daily culinary choices included Weetabix, marmalade, guava paste and arroz con grandules. I don’t think kids in midwestern suburbia knew what to do with us. We ate and dressed funny, our parents talked funny and we were everywhere.

Our ages span a period of 20 years. Seemingly unable to separate too much from each other, we now live in clusters in four regions of the U.S., and we represent a pretty good cross-section of society. Among other things, we have doctors, an entrepreneur, a social worker, a teacher, and a smoothie maker. We are made up of Democrats, Republicans and Independents.  We have some faithful Catholics, some sometime Catholics, some never Catholics, and a horoscope reader.  We have single and married, those with lots of kids, some kids, and the (happily) childless.  I haven’t even counted the spouses, yet.

Get-togethers are loud. Throw in good cheer and some cocktails and they become downright rowdy. Over the years we’ve had several landmark holiday controversies. There was the jingle bells/cascabeles dispute; Fight Club (we do not talk about the Fight Club); “Plague-year” (my physician brother lined us all up for anti-nausea shots so we could halfway function for our children); the time we used a borrowed funeral tent to accommodate extra guests; the year my dad lit his shirt on fire. (Blessedly, besides the one dress shirt he wore for every occasion, there were no casualties.)

Yes, when it comes to gathering for the holidays, you never quite know what to expect. With so many lifestyles and personalities, arguments can ignite faster than an explosion in the turkey fryer. The same disputes that plagued us during our childhood somehow easily resurface, and over the years I have been the biggest offender. I’ve brought up incidents left dormant for decades; reverted to my insufferable “I told you so” mentality; nudged hot-button issues. I’ve engaged in tag-team tactics to gang up on weaker opponents, using my intimate knowledge of personality traits and weakness to make a point and assert my dominance and “expertise.”

I’ve also been on the flip side, taken someone else’s bait, and lost my cool, turning holiday joy to holiday havoc.

At the Mass for Family Day during the 2013 Year of Faith, Pope Francis spoke of the presence of God’s love in our families, “which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful toward all.”  The pope urged us to employ God’s patient love with our families: to be patient with one another. “God alone knows how to create harmony from differences.”

A good thing. We sure didn’t pick our families, and no matter what we do, we will always be intrinsically connected to them. Holiday gatherings bring a forced togetherness that should be up-building and used to reconnect with the only people who truly understand where you came from and who you are. When differences naturally cause tension, it is our role as Christians to be a channel of Christ’s peace by relying on His example to unify, to “create harmony from our differences.” We should aim for grace and life, rather than hurt and hostility.  

I’d like to think I’ve grown a bit in maturity over the years when it comes to family functions. I try hard not to squander our once-a-year chance for togetherness and focus on our similarities over our differences. What do we have most in common? Our parents and family history, seeds of intimacy and faith, and intimacy through faith. 

Even though they just might drive me crazy, there is no one like the motley crew of Garabises that I’d rather gather round a table with. And I’ll raise a glass of Guinness (or perhaps coquito) to that!

Maria Garabis Davisholds a Juris Doctor degree and a BA in theology. A former youth minister and now practicing attorney, she resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and four children.

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