Holidays on Ice

Holidays on the rocks may have been an appropriate title, too.

Family is funny. The word is fairly loaded. In my experience, the term “family” applies beyond blood relatives. When referring to actual relatives, I tend to make reference to the specific level of relation – aunt, cousin, brother, sister.

Growing up, I was surrounded by cousins. Our tiny suburb – and by tiny, I mean teeny tiny at one square mile – was full of my maternal relatives, save one segment of my father’s family that we weren’t particularly close with.

The winter holidays make me nostalgic about my upbringing, mostly because there was a pleasant break from family bickering, filled with Hanukkah gift-swaps and my Great Aunt Phyllis’ annual New Year’s Eve party.

Hanukkah was big for my father’s family. We used to gather – when everyone was able to at least pretend to get along – at my grandparents’ house, removed from our cozy bubble in Huntington Woods. Gather we did, with all ten grandchildren, three sons, three daughters-in-law, and the elder Kirschs. Looking back, it seems like a bigger deal now – likely because a jolly gathering of the sort will never again be replicated.

I don’t remember very much about these parties, but I remember them happening almost yearly. My dad’s parents would give each grandchild a large black garbage bag full of gifts. My Kirsch core preceded me, as I can clearly remember slapping my sister at age 3 or 4 when she tried to help me open my porcelain tea set.

I look forward to converting the home videos my grandparents have saved to DVD so that I can look back more fondly.

My mom’s family is a bit different. Her mom, who passed away two years ago, had a huge, close family. For as long as I can remember, we gathered at my Great Aunt and Uncle’s house – my grandmother’s brother and his wife, with whom I’m quite close – and would spend the holiday eating, drinking . . . eating some more, and counting down to midnight with a disco ball constructed out of Solo cups and twinkle string lights.

Even at this point in my life, and throughout college, if I was close enough to even make an appearance at this gathering, I did. It was almost a magnetic force that pulled me toward their house.

This is where family becomes more of an expansive term. People gather who have been so close with the family for years, that it’s hard to distinguish them as anything else.

At this house, like many others, the basement was kid territory. Complete with plenty of entertainment – a big, projection-style television, radio and record player, trampoline, and air hockey table – it was hard to pry us away.

Things are different now, but the tradition lives on. I spent last year in Washington, D.C. for New Year’s, but felt I was there in spirit as people called me throughout the evening. This year, however, I’ll be in town, and at my Aunt and Uncle’s, where I will be ringing in 2012 with those most near and dear to me. And while I will not have a black bag full of gifts, my entire paternal family will see each other earlier in the evening at my cousin’s wedding.

As my mother always says, you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family, and I’m fairly sure that I would not have it any other way.

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