The 1990's were good years for me. Both of my best Christmases ever were in the 90's. My 2nd best was not on Christmas day but a get-together I had mid-December one year. I will try to not be wordy but I have to give you a little background.
I do not have a single memory of Christmas when I was a child. I grew up in a weird family. We had Christmas, per say, I just don't remember it. My older sister does not remember Christmas either. I will just leave it at that. I DO remember frosted sugar cookies from a bakery at my school parties. I thought that was the most luxurious thing in the world.
Christmases during the time my children were small were very good. Christmases after they grew up and left home ---eh--- lonely mostly.
Normally, I don't do parties. I am an introvert. I am a homebody. I don't like socializing. But I always wanted the big loving family experience of a family meal or get-together or something. Aunts and uncles and cousins.
I did not win the family jackpot, not counting my kids and grandkids, and my sister. My sister and I are in contact almost daily now but for a good 40 years we barely knew each other. That weird family thing. (I remember when we started to be close. My mother had died. Me in my 30's, my sister in her 40's, and us at the florist when I had a thought. The thought was that we were orphans. I said something like "We are orphans now. Maybe we should get to know each other.) We rarely ever see each other since she lives in another state but email has brought us together. I have a much older step-brother that lives on the other side of the country and I wouldn't know him if he were standing behind me in the grocery check out line. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, significant other, in-laws, out-laws....no. None.
Well, one year, this was back before my sister and I really got to know each other, I decided I was going to have that big loving family experience come heck or high water.
I made my own big family. I wanted to have a very simple dinner with my "big family" and I wanted to do something "Christmas-y." Something a family would do together.
A large church in town, not mine, had a magnificent Christmas program each year. It was wildly popular. It was presented numerous times during December. Tickets were free, but you had to have a ticket. I called the church office. The largest amount of tickets one person could pick up was 50. I picked them up. Now I knew my own big family would number 50 souls. The first 5 tickets were for me and my children. Now I needed 45 more "family members."
I prayed about who could I adopt for the evening to be my family. I prayed and pondered and thought and made a list. I didn't really have but a couple of close friends. I was busy with my kids when I was not working. I had a lot of acquaintances though. The first name that came to me was my favorite grocery store checker. I didn't even know her last name. Our only connection was that she was friendly, always smiling, funny and I liked to get in her line when I bought groceries. She seemed like the kind of person I would pick out for a cousin.
I knew another lady that was single and without much family. I knew her holidays went about like mine. She became a cousin too. Other names came to me. Patrons from work that I felt a closeness to; a special teacher from my kid's elementary school days.
I was active in my small Mormon church and people there were very good to me. Now Mormons know how to have big loving families. Big families. I am a convert. My 4 kids and I were a small family at church. :) I invited some of my church family that were important to me. The first "church people" I thought of was an older couple that I just loved to pieces. If I could have chosen them for my parents or grandparents I would have. Of course they became part of "my big family." Several of the women from church that had been so good to me became aunts and sisters and cousins, along with their husbands. Now I had uncles and brothers and male cousins. Some people were in their 70's, a few were children, and all ages in between. I was soon sorry I only had 50 tickets.
There was no way on earth I could afford to take 50 people out to dinner. There was no way on earth I could cram 50 people in my home for a meal. I could barely afford food for us five, not for a party. December in Texas might be mild but too cold for an evening picnic in a park. My church had a room big enough but it would not have been appropriate to ask to use it and few of my new "family members" were members of my church so I didn't want them to think I was trying to convert them. I finally came up with a meeting room I could use for free so now on to coming up with food for our family dinner.
I wrote a letter to my prospective family members, told them what I wanted to do, that I had the tickets for the Christmas program and invited them to be my family for the evening. I said I couldn't afford food for 50 but I could provide beverages, disposable bowls, plates, spoons, napkins etc if they could bring one thing to share...a crockpot of soup or chili, or bread, or a dessert for a potluck dinner. I would bring my crockpot of soup too. We would eat and then all go to the program together.
We had the best extended family dinner that I ever had. It was awesome. Most of the people did not know each other so before we started to fill our bowls I asked them to find a seat at a table and let me introduce everyone. I went to each family or individual and told why I felt they were special to me and why I wanted them to be my family for the evening. There were lots of hugs, laughs and some happy tears. We had a great time. It did not seem like a roomful of strangers at all. We all visited. We ate delicious food. Had tons of leftovers. Several offered to bring the paper goods and beverages so it turned out to be no expense for me except my soup offering. The church was only a few blocks away and we all enjoyed the Christmas program so much.
One of the nicest things I heard that night was from a woman of considerably more means and status than me. She told me she and her husband had a calendar full of holiday parties and events to attend but this one was the least stressful to think about attending and the most fun. That it was truly like a big family gathering.
If you are like me and Norman Rockwell family gatherings don't happen in your life and you want to do something fun for Christmas, or New Years, or for a random Saturday night I highly suggest you create your own family. You never can tell, it might turn out to be one of the best times of your life. Merry Christmas!
P. S. I would like to add that we all became one big happy family and stayed in contact, but no. My very best friend has passed away, others moved, others I just no longer see -- the grocery store checker was no longer there one day. Life happens, but for that one evening it was very good.