Every Friday my syndicated column appears in newspapers around North America. Here's this week's, on how to make sure Christmas stays fun for family!
When I was younger I loved Christmas because it brought family. I could hardly contain myself waiting for my cousins to drive up our laneway. Having other children to play with, and to sleep over, was the best part of my year. Unfortunately, my grandparents were both a little senile, so we children couldn’t be raucous all day. We had to be calm and subdued over the dinner table, during which my grandfather would recite all the recent plotlines from Matlock, which he thought was actually a documentary. So we children ate silently while we learned how Matlock pulled yet another trick out of his hat.
Later, though, we would play board games, and take hikes, and bake sticky, sweet things. We would choreograph dances and write plays and perform them, forcing our parents to sit through yet another performance with no actual plot and no discernible ending. But they watched, because that’s what family did.
I’m not sure what family does today. Often family times tend to revolve around some sort of screen, or some sort of bottle. Either everyone drinks together, or they watch television together, or they play on the Xbox together. Rarely do we actually do anything together.
We recently watched the movie Dan in Real Life, which is quite cute, and given the slim pickings at video stores these days, may be worth your while. The part of the movie I found so heartwarming, though, wasn’t actually the love story; it was all the activity in the background. It was real life family.
The bulk of the action centres on a family reunion at a rambling old farmhouse. The grandparents, the four adult children with their significant others, and countless grandkids are stuffed in this house, forming a bustling, crowded mass of humanity.
But what's so charming movie is what they do. No televisions or computers are anywhere to be seen. Instead, the family actually does stuff together. Weird stuff, mind you, but they’re laughing together all the while. There’s a contest between the males and the females to see which gender can finish the newspaper crossword. They play charades, touch football, and hide and seek—even the adults. They jump around aerobically first thing in the morning, and produce a talent show. The grandma teaches the younger girls to knit.
I was thinking of the movie this week because for many of us Christmas is that family reunion. It’s the only time of year the extended family is together. And if we spend that time watching television or playing the latest video game, we’re squandering the opportunity to create fun memories where we all just plain silly together.
I once attended a Christmas party at a friend’s house that was enough to snatch all the festive spirit from one forever. The only activities planned seemed to be drinking beer. Everyone was bored silly, even those who were partaking. The fifty or sixty people inside the home didn’t know each other, so natural conversation didn’t flow well. And then, in desperation, I started suggesting games. We played euchre; we played charades; the room came alive. My husband wanted to bury his head in the snow in mortification because I was taking over the party, but that is what I do when I am desperate. And once I took the lead, many others followed, so we could sneak out early.
I think we have forgotten how to have fun. The screen has replaced so much of our lives that we never actually just spend time together laughing and playing. And that’s a shame, because it’s only when we’re doing things together—rather than watching things together—that we can really share our personalities, our hearts, and form closer bonds. The message of Christmas is all about God bridging the gap so that he could have a relationship with us. And whether or not you celebrate that message, surely the idea of Christmas being a relationship-building time resonates with everyone.
So I’m warning my family: this year we are going to play charades, even if it kills us. It’s worth it just to see my brother-in-law try to act out “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. Want to join us?
Have a very Merry Christmas!
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Labels: Christmas, columns, computers, family fun, playing