My Holiday Deliverance


By Sister Renee (12/03)

     Ever since I was a child, we had Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house.  I always looked forward to getting together with my cousins.  As we all became adults, this tradition continued, with our own children and spouses enjoying the evening, and Santa making an appearance  every year. 

     After I married, I took on the responsibility of Christmas Day, having my birth-parents, birth-sister and husband, and , until she passed away, my grandmother for lunch, gift opening, and dinner.  I always put out a big spread of gourmet-type food and decorated the house from top to bottom, in an effort to make a special holiday for everyone.  I spent a huge amount of money and did a tremendous amount of work, usually taking one of my two weeks vacation from work the week before, so I could spend the time to make the day extra-nice for my family. 

     No one ever helped, except one year my birth-sister brought a plate of cookies.  My birth-father was fussy about what he ate, and I tried to please him.  My birth-mother needed to control many things, such as insisting that each of us open one present at a time, starting with the oldest person, so everyone else could watch and admire the gift.  This was very difficult with little kids (imagine making them sit there and wait while the adults opened first!- I soon caught on and let my kids open one gift each first), but I tried my best to accomodate her.  The result was that opening gifts took hours, making it necessary for me to serve lunch as well as dinner.

     I was always stressed out and exhausted, and usually got a cold or the flu just in time for the festivities.  Over the years, I learned not to be quite so pleasing. 

     For example, I hate shopping.  I really can’t stand it, and rarely had the time.  But even though I had a full-time job and young children, my mother insisted on giving me $20 for each child so that I could buy their gift from her.  (For a while there, she even had me wrapping them, saying there was no sense in my dropping them off at her house, when she would only have to bring them back to my house on Christmas Day!)  She did this under the guise of not wanting to ‘duplicate’ the toys I might be buying them. 

     She also gave me $20 to buy my husband a gift, and then started giving me money to buy myself a gift!  I couldn’t just accept the money- there had to be a gift under the tree or she wasn’t happy.  $20 does not buy much, but she was dissatisfied if the gift didn’t look ‘big enough’.  Many times, I added my own money to hers, which I could ill afford, so she would be happy with the gifts she was giving.

     Then my birth-sister started asking our mother to buy our gifts for her, a chore which my mother promptly passed on to me.  My grandmother began doing the same thing.

     So here I was, the one women out of all four who worked full time and had children to raise, who hated shopping and was already doing everything for the holidays, doing everybody else’s Christmas shopping as well!    Looking back, I can see what a fool I was, but I didn’t see it then. 

     This went on for years, but as my kids became adolescents and outgrew the ‘toy stage’, I realized my mother no longer had to fear ‘duplication’ of toys.  I told her I would no longer be doing everyone else’s shopping, since the original reason for me doing it no  longer existed.  Her strenuous objections spoke to her true motives- that she was just too lazy and uncaring to shop for her family herself!  But, with the strength Jesus had begun to give me, I was able to stick to my guns, and, in so doing, relieve myself of a   great  burden.    Eventually, everyone accepted my decision, and began taking care of their own responsibilities.  As a young married woman, I did not have the assertiveness to stand up for myself, and my relatives wasted no time in taking advantage of me, until, with God’s grace, I was able to change my own behavior. 

     Another problem that caused a great deal of holiday stress was my birth-father’s hostility and belligerence.  He never missed an opportunity to criticize, humiliate, lecture, or raise his voice to anyone in the room.  People have asked me if he has a drinking problem, but he doesn’t even have that excuse- he’s just plain mean!  Often, he would actually point his finger in someone’s face while shouting at them in front of everyone else.  His nasty behavior caused countless numbers of people to just avoid him as much as possible, but it seemed as if I, as his birth-daughter, and my family, had no choice. 

     Many of his tirades were aimed at me because I always stopped him when he began insulting others.  I especially felt the need to do this when I was the hostess.  After all, I was responsible for my guests enjoying themselves.  Since I was almost always the hostess (not only on Christmas), this caused me continual stress.

     As my sons grew older, I began to see the effect his behavior was having on them.  They began to complain when grandpa ruined their birthdays, holidays, school plays, violin concerts, etc.  Nothing was off-limits, nothing was safe.   They hated seeing their mother and grandmother being abused, and they could never invite friends to join in when he was included (neither could I!) for fear of being embarrassed, or, worse, having him target the friend.

     Even when I was a child, my mother had never done anything to protect me from her husband, in fact she often put me in the position of protecting her!  She always abdicated her responsibility as a parent and made her own life easier at my expense.  I knew I had to make sure  my children did not have the same miserable holiday memories that I had.  I had to start taking a stand.

     A real turning point was when I began having heart problems as a result of other issues concerning my birth-parents.  Two stress tests and a radioactive stress test were so bad they had to be stopped after only a few minutes (I lasted a whole four minutes on one test!).  I was scheduled to go into the hospital for an angiogram right after the holidays to see if I had a blockage.  Me, my husband, and children, and those who truly cared for me, were all anxiously praying for weeks.

      My birth-family was aware of this, yet that Christmas, at the dinner table in my home, my birth-father started an argument with my brother-in-law.  Even though my brother-in-law was polite and did not take the bait, my birth-father persisted and escalated, and my mother and birth-sister just sat there with long-suffering looks on their faces until, as usual, I had to get up my courage and intervene.

     That is when I sadly understood, very clearly, that my birth-family had absolutely no concern for me, my health, my happiness, or my children.  For the first time I realized that if they did not change their behaviors over the next year, this was probably going to be the last Christmas dinner we had together.  (Of course, not only didn’t they change their behaviors, they got even worse!) 

     When I later had my angiogram, the doctors could not find a reason for the lack of oxygen getting to my heart, and over the seven years since, now that my birth-family is no longer in my life, my symptoms have gradually faded.  I took no medication and had no medical procedures, but my last stress test was normal.  The only difference was not having to deal with my relatives anymore.  The Lord God set me free, and then healed me! Praise His glorious name!

     After this, my aunt, who is my birth-father’s sister, stopped inviting my family and me for Christmas Eve, and her two daughters (my ex-cousins) stopped speaking to us also. He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears….Proverbs 26:17 NKJV,  It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: But every fool will be meddling….Proverbs 20:3KJV.    Fortunately, we have a big family on both my side and my husband’s side, so two or three people ‘punishing’ us is sad, but not really so bad. 

     It was interesting to find out that  many other relatives were never too wild about the few who cut us off, but didn’t  mention this to me until after the big breakup. No one seemed too surprised that my ex-relatives did what they did.  A number of family members relayed to me past instances in which these few had shown themselves to have a treacherous nature, and tried to comfort me by saying it was only a matter of time before they turned on me, too.  My loyal relatives felt comfortable being honest now, knowing I would no longer feel any allegiance to those who were judgmental and disloyal to me.  In the past, because I loved them, I viewed them through ‘rose-colored glasses’, but others always saw through them. My loyal family members helped me to understand that the treachery of my birth-sister, aunt, and two cousins in siding with evil and wickedness was not personal to me, but rather the result of their own character deficiencies.

     I knew there would be fallout from taking a stand, and I was determined that my husband and I and our children would enjoy the holidays regardless of the betrayal and disloyalty of a few.  That meant keeping as many old traditions as we could, and starting some new ones as well. 

     For many years, my husband played Santa Claus for our friends’ children, and we went house-to-house the Sunday before Christmas.  We have continued that, but now our two sons take turns playing Santa.  They are continuing the tradition their father started.

     We still entertain and go to friends’ and family’s holiday parties, our veteran’s organization’s Christmas Party, and New Year’s Eve at our church.  We take a few evenings as a family to drive around and view the local light displays, visit our town Christmas Tree, and take part in a Candlelight Evening at an historic village nearby.  We make sure to bake all the cookies and desserts the kids loved as children.

     Now we can spend a peaceful Christmas Eve with close family and friends, going to church and opening gifts.  My ex-aunt used to invite everyone at 6 PM, and we didn’t get home until 2 or 3 AM.  This was exhausting and seriously cut into the time I had to prepare two big, gourmet meals for the next day.  Now I am much more relaxed as I can use that block of time to prepare for Christmas Day.

     Now we can sleep late Christmas morning, and have guests at 4 in the afternoon instead of 1.  I don’t need to make lunch anymore- just dinner.  We invite a group of close family and friends, as well as anyone we know will be alone, for dinner and gift-opening. 

     Then, after dinner, the crowd starts arriving!  We invite all our friends and family to come for dessert anytime after 7, whenever they are done with their own family celebrations.  Many are visiting from out-of-town and are ready for a break from their own families by then; others bring family members along with them.  We tell everyone not to bring any food, as we have already done a lot of baking, and this relieves them of worrying about where to pick up a cake on Christmas Day.  Our sons are able to invite their friends, and to enjoy themselves without being concerned about someone causing a scene.

      Some years, seven or eight people come, some years as many as forty have come!  We always have a wonderful time, knowing that every time the doorbell rings, it will be someone who loves us and cares for us- someone who is glad to see us, and whom we are truly glad to see! 

     An interesting sidebar is that the first year without my birth-family, I noticed that I suddenly had so much more money to buy gifts for my loved ones and to give to charity.  Not buying all the gifts, wrapping paper, and cards for my unappreciative relatives left me with plenty of extra money (as well as time and energy) to go around.  After that first holiday without them, I became curious and decided to add up how much I was saving on Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, etc., and was shocked to realize it was almost $2000 a year!  That did not include the years that my ex-aunt’s family had weddings, showers, graduations, engagement parties, etc.,to which we used to be invited-sometimes as many as 5 or 6 major occasions in one year!  During those years, almost my entire salary from work went to gifts for them.  Now all that extra money could be put to much better use.

     My stress level has been greatly diminished, and my joy has been greatly increased!  We are finally experiencing the peace and happiness we missed before.  I am able to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas praying and giving thanks for the birth of our Savior, and thinking about what his birth means to me and to the world.  I am no longer distracted by stress and unreasonable demands from seeing the joy in what is really important, and I am in the proper frame of mind to express my gratitude to God for all our blessings and for all he has done for us.  For he has done great things- Praise his holy name!

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, for you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared….Proverbs 22:24-25 NIV

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged…..Colossians 3:21 NIV

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things….Phillipians 4:4-8NIV