Giving Thanks

CATE OBRIEN | OPINION COLUMNIST

If I had to sum up my family’s Christmas tradition in one word, it would be Grandma. Every year, my family heads to Minnesota for almost a full week to spend the holiday in my grandma’s one-story house with ten cousins, six aunts and uncles, my family of five and an exorbitant amount of gifts. When I was a kid, this holiday was heavenly. My mom used to say that going to Grandma’s was like going to Disney World, and it was. We’d spend the four or five days there playing with our cousins, eating too much candy and opening presents before heading back to real life, thoroughly fulfilled.

As I got older, though, this family gathering started feeling less like heaven and more like an obligation. Spending four days in a cramped house with a half-dozen of my other adolescent cousins suddenly seemed a little less cozy and a little more frenzied. My high school bosses would get frustrated when I asked off for the week of Christmas, “the busiest time of the year,” to go on vacation. Perhaps most stressful of all was spending the entire day, hour after hour, in the same room with the same sarcastic family. For someone who needs a little space and a little quiet time, the banter, laughter and – let’s be honest – drunkenness could get a little overwhelming.

This Thanksgiving break, however, when I visited my grandma and she gave me a crisp $50 bill just to grab myself a coffee, I remembered just how much she loves giving. All the presents, all the food, all the overwhelming consumerism, stems from that. As much as it can overwhelm me, I need to stay grateful for her: for this wonderful woman who just wants to give me something I love. And it got me thinking: why was it so much easier for me to be grateful for her when I was a child?

I think childhood allows us to view the world as a more magical place. Sometimes, that magic is imaginary. But sometimes, childhood opened our eyes to the real life magic that was right in front of us, the magic in a shopaholic grandma with a great perm who gives so much to those she loves.

The holidays can be a stressful time, and sometimes family makes things even more stressful. But opening your eyes to the magic that is in the holidays – the magic of giving and receiving with those you love – might take a little of the stress away.

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