Peace, joy, and … family?

Christmas is a time for joy and peace — until you get around your family. There always seems to be one nagging holiday issue that resurfaces each year for every clan.

It might be where and when you gather, or even who gets to come celebrate. For my family, the big issue has always been determining the best gift exchange scenario.

It began after I started college. Since I was the youngest child, my parents finally had an empty nest. As a broke college student, I cried to my mom that I wasn’t going to be able to buy proper gifts for my whole family, which then forced her to initiate the conversation with everyone about a structured gift exchange to save us all money. Twenty years later we still haven’t found an arrangement that makes everyone happy.

We began by setting a limit on the amount spent on each gift. That worked for a few years, until one of us realized none of us was receiving that exciting big gift. Our apparent lack of enthusiasm upon opening gifts of a maximum value of $15 showed.

Then we started drawing names, spending real money on the person we selected and getting a small token gift for everyone else. But the debate over exactly how much to spend caused tension each year.

Then there was the issue of what to get everybody. As we grew older, it seemed to be easier for us just to purchase our own gifts and then get reimbursed. That was remedied by posting individual wish lists openly on my mother’s fridge, allowing everyone to see what everyone was getting for the holiday. So much for the element of surprise.

One year, we thought outside the gift box and decided to spend our money on an Angel tree at a local mall. But one member of the family ended up disappointed with that result and determined Christmas was more special for her when it included presents under our own tree.

This year it was suggested we only purchase items made in the USA, but I balked this time saying no one would receive very much if that were the restriction.

Sorry, America.

Of course all this sounds privileged, petty and commercial, especially since Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the message of love.

But I think the real issue goes deeper. Regardless of what family squabble you dread during the holidays, aren’t we all simply trying to capture some of the magic of Christmases far passed?

As kids we had no concept of our parents working for the money to buy our toys. We simply woke up on Christmas morning and gathered near the pile of presents. And that pile to me was like a colorful collection of wrapped mystery that I violently ripped apart to solve the riddle of what was waiting for me inside. We had stalked those gifts for weeks.

Some of you even snuck into a closet or attic to get a peek at your gifts ahead of time. Not only that, a jolly old elf had spent all night just to get to you to give you more gifts! How special you felt!

It never entered my mind that parents around the country were stressed and having crazy holiday arguments while trying to provide that fantasy of a perfect Christmas for us. Now that we are those over-worked, over-stressed adults, how nice it would be to board the Polar Express again, just for a night.

So this holiday when your blood pressure is as high as the star at the top of your tree, try to remember that your uncle who makes random racist comments or your grandfather who passes wind at dinner were once little kids who frantically ran down the stairs to see what Santa brought them.

But when you’ve finally had enough of the drama, spring to you car and as you drive out of sight yell, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight.”


Melissa Carter is former co-host of “The Bert Show” on Q100, where she broke ground as the first out lesbian radio personality on a major station in the city and was one of the few out morning show personalities in the country. Keep up with her at