By Joe Rector

I’ve watched some recent television families go through their holiday gyrations. Sometimes joyful endings occurred, but at other times, the whole family wound up dysfunctional by the end of the program. Even in real life, stories abound about the crazy events that come with the holiday season. My own family used to have plenty of drama during the Christmas season, but at some point we got over it.

Just making it home for Christmas brought about strife. After we married, Amy and I began the holiday season in Cookeville, where her family lived. We celebrated with them on Christmas Eve. Bright and early Christmas morning, I was chomping at the bit to get a move on. We stowed our stuff in the car and then piled in for the 100 mile drive to Knoxville. I fretted for days about whether a white Christmas would strand us and keep me away from my mother, brothers, and their families. By the time the car pulled into the driveway on Ball Camp Pike, I’d created a layer of anxiety so thick that Amy and I lost much of our Christmas spirit.

When our daughter Lacey turned three, Amy told her parents and uncle and aunt that we would celebrate Christmas at home. They were more than welcome to travel to our house, and they made the trip for years. Travel worries were replaced with stress over the company that came. A house that has only 1250 square feet was far from large enough to comfortably accommodate six adults and a small child. At times, I acted like Clark Griswold. Much of my time was spent outside performing some unimportant task. That way I could avoid the stuffy, hot house that was overflowing with talk and television noise. Later, the whole group traveled to Mother’s house for dinner. By the time evening arrived, my head ached. I searched for a corner in which to hide. Obviously, I was less than a good son-in-law, husband, and father.

As Dallas and Lacey grew older, I worried about their presents. They had to be equal in number and importance. On Christmas morning they opened presents, and I asked if Santa had brought the things that they wanted. The same question was asked multiple times during the day and often was repeated for a couple of days after Christmas. I did the same thing with Amy  because I bombed so badly with her gifts on the first Christmas we were married. I never wanted to repeat that mistake and see the hurt and disappointment on my wife’s face. My family began to dread the day because of Dad’s worrying.

When our grandson Madden arrived, it was Lacey’s turn to give the ultimatum: we would have to travel to Nashville to see them. Since then, we’ve traveled to middle Tennessee for the day. Dallas has been unattached and willing to make the journey as well. Madden is the center of attention, and we have risen much too early on Christmas morning to be at his house when he opens presents. Exhaustion sets in about midafternoon, and we all turn a bit grouchy if naps aren’t on our schedules.

I suppose age changes the perspective on Christmas. Like everyone, I enjoy receiving a couple of presents. The truth is that I don’t have many wants for the day, at least none that is smaller than a Nissan truck. I still want all to like the gifts they’ve received, but these days, I don’t worry so much since they can exchange them; Santa also leave gift receipts with each box. What I like best is spending the day with my family. The calmer and quieter it is, the better I like it.

These days my energies at Christmas are used up loading and unloading the car and walking the dog. The rest of the time, I simply want to sit back and enjoy the ones I love so much. That makes the perfect Christmas with no stress.