I have recently been pondering the question of when I must start contributing to the holiday feasts/festivities that my family puts on. “Must” and “should” are two very different words in my vocabulary, considering I’m not one to follow social mores. Technically, I probably should have been that family member that contributes more than her presence at family functions years ago. However, in your ’20s you’re not really willing to give up your late night shit-show of a reunion with all of your hometown friends that are in town for the holidays in exchange for your best Martha Stewart impression. However, when this daunting task becomes a must is a thought I have not previously broached. As a child/young adult, your only assignment for the holidays is merely to show up. With the exception of one Thanksgiving in 2007 that we no longer speak about amongst my family, I have always managed to fulfill this one request. But when are you supposed to transition from the youth on the receiving end into the adult that gives and provides?
I once volunteered to make the family turkey. I was pretty excited to show off my culinary skills to my family. In general, I don’t like to take on a task unless I feel I have something valuable to add or can just do it downright better. I felt like over the years I had learned enough about what it took to make a badass turkey from my Vietnam vet uncle on the “other” side of the family, who could probably turn the ass-end of a can of tuna into some sort of delicacy. I thought I could utilize his kitchen warrior skills and really do some impressing. Little did I know, the time of the morning these things had to start baking, at the temperature I had planned, would have provided a turkey ready for consumption sometime shortly prior to Christmas. Not to mention, I had just gotten in a couple hours before and was not particularly in the shape to be handling sharp objects or hot machinery. Needless to say, I handed over the reigns to my, at this point, very judgmental father, and said, “I’ll try again when I’m older, maybe next year, but probably not,” and went back to bed until lunch time.
Then comes the whole nightmare debacle of buying gifts. When you’re younger, your parents would just assume that you don’t buy them gifts. A) They know doing so will cause a shortage of your funds and at some point they’ll end up footing the difference, thereby paying for their own gift in the long-run, or B) It won’t top that homemade wreath you made for them in 4th grade arts and crafts that they still hang on the front door every year, even though it now looks like they pulled it out of a box dropped off at the local thrift store (apparently, parents are really into sentimental stuff like that, which is why my parent’s house looks like a second-grader still lives there around the holidays). Yet, if you don’t buy them something, especially once you’ve developed a semi-steady income, you’ll feel like a real ass. So, what do you do?
Does this big transition happen when you get married? When you have kids? When you turn 25, 30? While contemplating this coming-of-age question, I decided that any time you add an additional participant to your family’s festivities, your degree of contribution should probably step up a bit. This is by no means a bright-line standard, as every family is uniquely dysfunctional, but I like it. My attached siblings and cousins may disagree, but eventually my Aunt isn’t going to be able to keep up with the deviled-egg demand, and I won’t be the solo one on the losing end of that deal. As applied to myself, this standard means I most likely have a good five to seven more years to continue showing up reeking of last night’s debaucherous activities, eating food exceptionally better than my own, and winning back my points with relatively small acts of possibly a side-dish that isn’t as good as my grandma’s and/or a few novelty gifts (and my first-born charm of course!).
My married friends seem to think this idea of a progressive contribution is a bit counter-intuitive, and I see their point. When you add to your family, the holiday obligations increase: two families, two meals to prepare for, and two sets of gifts to buy. Ugh. However, all of these obligations come with the territory of becoming a real adult, not my 20s version thereof. Eventually our family dynamics will evolve into a time where us new adults will have to take over cooking the whole damn meal, buying allllll of the gifts for way too many people, all the while dreaming up “believable” excuses to skip town next year, but that year is not this one, or most likely even next. Try to enjoy it.