Being divorced during the holiday season can be a mixed blessing or a blessing in disguise, often at the same time. Here’s my take on the situation:
Five Things I Don’t Miss About Being Married During the Holidays
1. Being Assigned a Vegetable
Every year, being the more senior members of the family by length of marriage (apparently), my brother-in-law and sister-in-law would host the holidays at their larger home. Always centered around dinner, with kids and friends the number fed grew well past the teens. Therefore everyone attending was assigned something to bring to the buffet. Now, not to brag, but I can follow a recipe damn well and can make some great dishes. My sister-in-law could not. To save her life, though god knows she tried and risked ours in the process. A killer brisket brought by me later, and compliments from around the table, and I was assigned green beans for every holiday. Every. Holiday. When I spiced up my green bean game with Meyer lemon zest and butter and got compliments from her husband, I was assigned cut up fruit. Because nothing says “holiday cheer” like competitive side-dishing.
2. Soup Sabotage
I happen to also make a killer matzo ball soup from scratch…except the matzo balls, which I prepare from a mix (which are the dry ingredients and then you add eggs and vegetable oil). Again, I gathered lots of compliments and comparisons to my mother-in-law’s usual matzo balls which were likened to cannon balls instead. She then felt the need to announce to everyone that my matzo balls were great considering they were from a mix. The following year she deliberately over-salted my finished soup, rendering it inedible.
3. The Gift List
Again, with the large size of the family, my sister-in-law decided to ease the financial burden by drawing names out of a hat for who bought gifts for whom. Every year- EVERY year- she and her husband got my in-laws and my husband and I got the weird cousins we only saw at holidays. I’m no statistician, but really? Also, we were only allowed to give pre-approved gifts to their children from a specific list that came with links so as to cut down on confusion. Because my husband and I clearly couldn’t be trusted with important child-gifting responsibilities or the honor of gifting his parents.
4. Living with The Grinch
I grew up celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, while my husband grew up only doing the latter. He knew that there was a big emphasis on Christmas in my family and when we were dating came with me to get a tree for my apartment and enthusiastically attended the festivities with my family. However once we were married, the “not in my home” boom was lowered and a Christmas tree and related items (Santa, green and red, holiday lights and even candy canes) were basically forbidden. I was left with non-denominational snowmen, icicles and snowflakes to decorate with in December. Inexplicably we still attended and eventually hosted Christmas eve with my family, as I guess he only had the courage to control me and not take on my parents. These were dark years in which I started to hate instead of love the season. It took seven years, until I had a two-year-old, to get the courage to just get and set up a fresh tree while he was at work.
5. Not Having to Compromise
I get to celebrate the holidays the way I want with no pressure. When I have the kids every other year for Thanksgiving I can make what I want and serve it how I’d like (and instead I choose to go glamping and eat at their buffet). My kids get all of my Christmas traditions. We eat what we’d like, no assignments or over-salting. There’s reduced pressure with one adult, in that I don’t have to worry about a spouse being uncomfortable or silently resentful or openly hostile.
What I Don’t Like About Being Divorced During the Holidays
1. Not Having to Compromise
Some of the joy in the holidays, honestly, comes from compromising. Sure you may be coerced into celebrating in a way you wouldn’t normally, but you may find some new joy in that whether it’s a tradition you pick up or a shared moment you experience. And compromising for family is an important lesson, especially in what’s supposed to be the season of giving and thankfulness.
2. Being the Sole Memory Keeper
There’s a bit of pressure and sadness in being the only parent present to remember the holidays. My parents worked together to get the house ready and I later learned of my dad toiling to assemble bikes and doll houses long into the night. I used to get up early with my dad on Christmas morning and wait for my mom to get up. They both had different memories of Christmas Eve and day. As a divorced mom, I’m the only one assembling and decorating and cooking and hopefully remembering. There’s a missing sense of adult camaraderie that makes me nostalgic not for my marriage but for having another full grown person around to make and share the memories with.