I’m a Christmas guy. As I’ve written in the past, every year I start playing Christmas music in the car the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve got the usual stuff – seasonal songs, hymns, etc. – but I also play some songs that are, well, different.
One in particular stands out: “Merry Christmas From the Family.” The original is by Robert Earl Keen, although a more recent, less crude version was recorded by Montgomery Gentry.
For those unfamiliar with the old country tune, it starts off with: “Mom got drunk and dad got drunk, at our Christmas party.” It goes on to recount some colorful encounters with distant relatives and new family members. It might seem out of place with the other songs, but I love the tune for what it is, and for what it isn’t.
At our recent company Christmas get-together, we found out that one member of our team had never heard the song. Since she is young, Jewish, and from New Jersey, maybe that’s not surprising, but a few of us from the South decided she should become acquainted with it.
As we sang the lyrics, she was dismayed. When she finally heard the whole song online, she was even more put off.
I don’t think we did a good job of painting the whole picture.
The point of the tune is that the family isn’t perfect. There are drunk parents of adult kids, divorced people, step children, skepticism about foreigners that is later erased, a struggle to figure out some family relations, and a convenience store shopping list that involves cigarettes.
Granted, the song is meant to be extreme and humorous. I can safely say that the description doesn’t match my family dynamics, but I still get it: in the real world, families are rarely perfect. Very few of us, if any, match the movies we see on Hallmark this time of year or any of those cloying holiday cards.
Not all family members get along. People have bumps and bruises from decades of relationships and simply living. We bring our history to each conversation at the dinner table, which can be awkward at times, if not downright uncomfortable.
But, just as is noted in the song, this is the time of year when we make a point to get together. We are genuinely interested in each other, in renewing our family and friend connections, and doing what we can to strengthen them.
That is how I will spend my Christmas, and it’s my wish for all of us – that no matter how imperfect our personal lives might seem at times, we use this holiday to reconnect with those who are meaningful in our lives, even if we rarely see them and are sometimes annoyed by them.
Who knows, you just might end up sharing a little holiday cheer and then singing a few verses of an off-beat Christmas tune!
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