CAMPBELL: Embracing my family’s Thanksgiving chaos

As we returned to school after Thanksgiving and a few days of relaxing, shopping and not doing any homework, some people are recovering not only from holiday hangovers and tryptophan comas but also the stress that seems to be caused by spending long periods of time with people who share similar genetic structures to their own: family.

Family gatherings used to be stressful for me. As one of the quieter members of my extended family, I used to feel lost in the crowd. And it is quite the crowd. My mom is one of 11 children, all with their own children, and we’re getting old enough now that many of my cousins have started families of their own. All of you who know me will laugh when you read me calling myself “quiet,” but in that bunch, I am. That should tell you something about my family. Over the years, I’ve learned there are ways to get your voice heard, if you really want to. I’ve also learned to wear heels, as I’m one of the few in my family who will never reach or exceed the illustrious 6-foot mark.

Thanksgiving this year was “small”; we only had about 30 people at our dinner gathering Thursday. Over the course of the afternoon, we received several phone calls from other gatherings of our kin across the country, including a picture of a wonky-looking turkey from Florida.

After dinner, the dreaded task of drawing names for our annual Christmas gift exchange was upon us. And by us, I mean the four of us (myself included) who did not flee the room when someone mentioned “drawing names.” It’s an important process, and there are rules. The thing is, the rules have never been written down, so we have to re-determine them every year. Which means they are different every year. Are boyfriends and girlfriends included? What determines if you’re in the adult or kid exchange? Do we include out-of-town family? Speaking of which, who will be in town for Christmas this year? Remember the year of the infamous White Elephant? Do we really even need a gift exchange at all? Isn’t it a little excessive, anyway?

Sound stressful? It would be, to most, but we all must have some weird genetic mutation that allows us to enjoy something so complicated. I used to get so invested in the outcome that I would try to run the whole thing myself, and when, for obvious reasons, teenage me was not allowed to have her way and be in charge of the clan, I would get so upset that I’d end up in tears somewhere or whining about it to my dad.

Some people might find the holidays stressful because of all the forced family time. I would find them stressful if it wasn’t for the time I get to spend with my relatives. Christmas especially is the one time of the year when we are all able to get together and catch up. We have a deep respect for one another, but we also are not afraid to call each other out if someone is doing something truly stupid (details and anecdotes spared in this column because of that whole respect thing). We often joke that we would make such a better reality show than the Kardashians. But really, we would.

My high school friends sometimes complain that I seem to have so many family “obligations” when I’m home, but I could not imagine going home for the holidays and not spending time with my family. The reality is, I look forward to the time I spend with them, and I enjoy the chaos that a family gathering can bring.

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