Monday, December 5, 2011

Dysfunctional Family Holiday Eating

In the Failed Diets post yesterday I listed 12 Days of eating, including Valentine's Day, Fat Tuesday, St Patrick's Day, Easter, Fourth of July, family birthdays; and of course, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. Every one of these days is a day most people mark as celebrations. Somehow, somewhere, in my world, they unconsciously became days of food: special foods, holiday foods, family recipe foods. It says a lot for how food was the defining factor in all celebrations when I was growing up. This behavior (in my brain) continued into adulthood (or supposedly adulthood - I often act more like a child than a mature adult). When did the celebrations come to be so much more about the food than the celebration? 

Mix of Personalities
In my childhood, festive events were all about time with family, treasured recipes and sometimes strong drink for the adults in our extended family. (My own father never drank alcohol and my mother had maybe five drinks a year). When you add in everyone in the family's personalities and the stresses each person was going through, many celebrations focused more on food and drink to avoid spending too much time actually feeling and sharing too much closeness with family. This was back in the 60's and 70s, before the term dysfunctional family had common usage.

Songbook sold separately
I was in 11th grade the first time I heard the term 'dysfunctional family,' but the minute I heard it, I identified with it. That very day I sat down and wrote a synopsis for book I titled "The Dysfunctional Family Christmas - A Comedic Tragedy." Being a practicing member of my own Dysfunctional Family, I never followed up the idea by writing the novel.

That was thirty-three years ago. Since then other writers have jumped on the dysfunctional family theme for entertaining movies, books and television shows. I particularly loved an SNL skit from the 1990's called the Dysfunctional Family Christmas Album, which includes 'HARK, how the bells' sung with the words "LEAVE me alone, PLEASE go away. . . . "

I have forgiven myself for not following through. I have forgiven myself for the failed diets, the holidays wrapped in food instead of family; the celebrations where perishables trumped presents and people. Forgiveness does not give me carte blanche to overeat today. Understanding the dysfunction does not relieve me of my responsibility to take care of myself over this holiday period or any other day.

There is nothing we can eat, n-o-t-h-i-n-g, that will change the past. Happy memories of past celebrations can be re-lived, without food, by tapping into our feelings of that time and understanding and even embracing them today.

Adding more laughter into the day, not taking every little thing personally and absolutely not taking myself too seriously, have all added up to making holidays in our home less dysfunctional. Hopefully, our daughters' holidays will continue to be more about love and laughter and less about cookies-at-all-costs.



Diane Fit to the Finish said...

To me, your second to last paragraph is so important. Holidays are to be celebrated and remembered, and no amount of food improves the relationships or the past! Wonderful post Jane.

E. Jane said...

I enjoyed this post very much--maybe even more so because I come from a very dysfunctional family or origin. I have tried to do better with my family, but the truth is that no family is perfect, and we have to deal with our little quirks. I think our family does not focus on the food as much as the fun. We have the rituals based on other things (white elephant game for one) that keeps us laughing and out of the food. We can have good food anytime, not just at holiday time. Loved this post!

Vickie said...

I really understand how the family/food/holiday thing gained so much momentum in this country.

I know you know this too. But for some reason wanted to leave this as a comment so I remember.

I (personally) think of it starting with Little House on the Prairie. On many levels I often think everything one needs to know about life can be found in those extended series of books.

So, I am picturing Little House days - when the holidays were 'treat' based but that was about the only time they had treats.

I can see that during the depression years and shortages of WWII this continued.

And that (little house to after WWII) is where our great-greats, and greats, and regular grandparents were based.

I understand how when things became too plentiful the tradition continued without reason/sense.

that TOPS lady said...

I loved this post. I too have thought about holidays and wondered "Why do we worship food/gluttony on this day? Why is it important that we eat cerain things?" Well, it's not. Even if our mama make us feel like we are letting the family down if we don't eat another piece of pie, ya know? LOL

I ate FIVE pieces of pie on Thanksgiving. Five. Why? Was I happier? no. Did I have to work like a slave later that week to not have a gain? yes.

My Christmas plan: stay 100% with the healthy kick I'm on.

Even if mama calls me scrooge ;)

Jane Cartelli said...

Diane - I've learned that the only experience really relived through quantities of food is the unpleasant feeling to having eaten too much., then misery for having done it again. I am so grateful not to be looking to go there this year.

E. Jane - Please tell me more about the white elephant game. Sounds like fun.

Vickie - I love Little House. The never gorged. I DVR it each year. Watching it does not lead me to food. I do not watch Charles kill a turkey and run out to the store for the fixins'

TopsLady - If mama calling you a scrooge is annoying offer her a new name to call you. My mom calls me the skinny bitch (a compliment).