And so it came to pass, across the land the people did gather unto each other, feasting, celebrating, and making merry. Kitchens were full of warmth and mouth watering aromas, stories and remembrances of times past filled the air, and the order of the day was laughter and contentment. It was the holidays.
But not all the people found such contentment. For some, family were not so easily available, and friends were too caught up with their own families to consider them. Even if they still had parents, for the holidays they were orphans.
A room at the holiday orphanage was my lot for much of the first 20 years of my adult life. My family was spread across the country, with my nearest sibs 1000 miles away or more. My parents were 2000 miles away in Minnesota. Having sworn a mighty oath to never subject myself to below zero weather again, I always used the portion of vacation time allocated for visiting them in the summer or fall months. Late December in Minnesota is a time for hardier souls, or at least for those who have a measure of antifreeze in their bloodstreams (no, not spiked eggnog).
I did my best to ignore the holidays. For the most part they were just an excuse to have a day or two off from work. My mother would take pity come Christmas time and mail a care package – 3 or 4 dozen home baked cookies. For my part I’d pick up the phone on Christmas Eve and call wherever I figured the family gatherings might be.
My typical holiday feast would be a Swanson Turkey TV dinner, positioned in lap, fork in one hand, tv remote or beer in the other; kicked back in a recliner, unshaven and wearing t-shirt and sweat pants. You know all those awful single guy stereotypes? Guilty, your honor.
Well, ok, maybe not all the awful stereotypes.
There was the occasional break. A couple times, coworkers, upon finding out my lack of holiday plans would invite me over for dinner. Other times a travel buddy I first met in a hostel in Ireland would come up from California and we’d ski Mt Hood. He, also being an “orphan” discovered my Mom’s cookies, and began to bug me about sending a dozen or so down his direction when it was the season.
So when fate finally interceded and I found myself in a steady relationship, and was invited to the holidays with my girlfriend’s (now wife’s) family, the feeling of belonging once again returned. That first year, I expressed to them how much I appreciated the invitation, and described the quality of past holiday feasts. In subsequent years, retelling that sob story turned into a running joke, complete with an orchestra of family members playing air violins and shedding copious virtual tears into their mashed potatoes. Nowadays those memories are of a more distant past, and Norman Rockwell has returned in all his glory.
There is a moral to the story. Something we like to do, especially for Thanksgiving and Christmas if we are home, is find holiday orphans within our circle to invite to dinner. Sometimes they may be single friends. Sometimes they may be coworkers who are working away from home – it can be particularly interesting if they’re from another country. This time of year charitable acts often focus on the financially needy, but don’t forget your single friends; even if they’re solvent the holidays can be a lonely time and they’re always grateful.
And so it came to pass, despite the passage of time taking my parents and turning me into a real orphan it also gave me a new family, and on occasion the chance to open the holiday orphanage door for another lonely soul.