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SHADES OF GRAY

Holiday Options : In the Absence of Family, Finding Creative Ways to Celebrate

November 22, 1990| Agnes Herman | Agnes Herman is a writer, lecturer and retired social worker living in Lake San Marcos

Today is Thanksgiving, a family holiday, a time to gather together, to share, to rejoice, and, of course, to break bread. At this very moment, many of us are surrounded by loving relatives, enjoying the wonderful aromas of roasting turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. Others of us, however, willingly or unwillingly distant from family, are facing a day of choices: either to succumb to loneliness, or, creatively, to fill the day with good feelings, good friends and good fun.

My neighbor, whose married children and grandchildren have scattered for the holidays, choses not to weep over lost togetherness; instead, she found another mother alone and, together, they will spend the day hiking and enjoying the beauty of North County. These two friends will share a meal and dissipate loneliness by savoring their friendship and a variety of Thanksgiving goodies that will be packed in their picnic cooler.

My husband, children and I came to California 25 years ago. Our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles remained firmly planted in the East. The distance from East to West was, for them, insurmountable; on the other hand, they believed that the distance from West to East was, for us, just a bunny hop from airport to airport.

As years passed, we settled into California life and were not inclined to hassle with the cross-country trip with any frequency. New friends became family and our Thanksgiving table was loaded annually with unrelated "relatives."

The sadness of our first Thanksgiving away from East Coast family faded, obliterated by the joy of closeness with friends we started out liking and ended up loving.

It is rare, today, to find an entire family residing in the same city or, even, state. Those of us who chase the sunshine, tossing our snow shovels along the way, trade the tight family circle for the independence of living where we choose. Inevitably, however, when the holidays start rolling around, nostalgia sets in. By early November, the annual question looms: "What am I/are we doing for the holidays?"

Being creative in how you observe the holiday is one answer.

When, for example, children and/or grandchildren have opted to celebrate "traditional" Thanksgiving with others, why not invite them to a pre- or post-Turkey Day meal on an earlier or later Sunday?

The holidays frequently set travel plans in motion. One Christmas/Hanukkah season, on a cruise ship that employed my husband, I was astonished to find numerous older couples and individuals. These holidays were, I believed, family centered: everyone came together for them! Only we were the exceptions!

Not so! One cheerful woman explained that her children were traveling to visit in-laws for the holidays, so she decided to travel, too.

We cannot all afford to cruise, but we can get out and enjoy the sunshine, our own lovely North County beaches and beautiful landscape. A brisk walk along the ocean in Carlsbad can brighten a lonely day. The scampering squirrels and sun-soaked surfers are pleasant distractions.

There are many other ways to celebrate when traditional family festivities are not feasible. Sometimes, taking the opportunity to make someone else's holiday happier rewards you with a warm feeling of accomplishment.

In Poway, Temple Adat Shalom's members have a standing date at the North County Interfaith Council on Christmas Day. Temple members serve breakfast there so staff members who want to celebrate Christmas don't have to work. Reaching out, helping others, is itself a celebration.

The council, a nondenominational agency dedicated to "helping people help themselves," provides a variety of ways to join in the holiday spirit. Those interested in helping can call Cyrena Robitaille at the North County Interfaith Council, 489-6380.

Being surrogate grandparents is a special treat enjoyed by many whose own grandchildren are unavailable. There are never enough grandmas and grandpas. When we are without grandchildren, we can always invite a niece or nephew, or even a young family of neighbors who are separated from their own relatives. Holiday time makes it particularly possible to stretch the meaning of "family" for everyone's benefit.

Some of us, nevertheless, have to get away for the holidays . . . or FROM the holidays! It is just not comfortable staying at home. The Elderhostel program fills that need beautifully by providing courses during holiday periods. A week away at a college or university enables anyone over 60 to learn, to meet new people and to enjoy an academic atmosphere for a week. The San Diego Community College District will present a free lecture Monday at 1:30 p.m. on, "What is Elderhostel and How Does One Participate" at the Chateau La Jolla, 233 Prospect Ave. Call 584-6987.

California is conducive to creativity. Our North County is especially open to innovation.

But, sometimes, even lovely landscape and clean air cannot erase disappointment.

My neighbor says that she cannot tolerate the stress of annual holidays. She has decided that a major celebration every five years will enable the family, without excuses, to get together from far and wide. Five years is a long time between visits for some; others will find it a splendid idea!

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