The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 26, 2013

The holidays are all about family

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — “Did you have a nice Christmas?”

That was the question on everyone’s lips as we all returned to work after the holiday.

Which begs the question, how do you define what constitutes a nice Christmas?

Is it the number and type of gifts you received?

The National Retail Federation forecast sales for November and December to increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, so those who measure happiness in terms of weight, volume and the number of batteries required must be busting their buttons, assuming their gifts weren’t caught in the late-season shipping fiasco that left UPS and Fed Ex in the embarrassing position of not being able to live up to their guarantees.

Is a nice Christmas one in which you consume mass quantities of turkey and all the trimmings, gallons of egg nog and dozens of cookies of all stripe? The British Dietetic Association estimated folks in the UK would gain about five pounds over the holiday season.

Since we do everything bigger in this country, that likely means Americans will pack on more bulk we will have to shed once the holidays are past.

Does the amount of decorations you place in your home or the amount of lights on your house constitute a nice Christmas?

The Griswold Phenomenon was showcased recently by the TV show “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” during which families with extreme holiday displays battled for supremacy, a $50,000 first prize and a Christmas light trophy.

The winners were the Larsens of Elburn, Ill., thanks to their modest display featuring more than one million lights synchronized to holiday music.

Does the success and failure of your Christmas hinge on the amount you give to friends and loved ones, or to charity?

Forbes Magazine estimates the average American spent $1,014 on holiday gifts this year, this despite a CNN/ORC International poll that found 62 percent of us were cutting back their holiday gift-giving this year because of concerns about the economy.

That dovetails with the 61 percent who said they were likewise trimming their holiday donations.

Does the number of family members you gather with determine whether or not yours was a happy Christmas?

Many experts point to faulty family dynamics as a prime stressor during the holidays — this one’s mad at that one, who irritates the other one, who makes the one over there feel inadequate, that sort of thing.

For the record, my Christmas was great. I was given way too much, spent way too much, ate way too much and hung far too many lights and decorations both inside and out.

But as we do every Christmas, we gathered with family, ranging in age from just days old to nudging up against 80 years.

We talked, laughed, caught up on the news, swapped stories and shared jokes, between bouts of stuffing our faces.

When it came time to open presents, the youngest children played Santa Claus, as the children who used to play Santa, and who are now parents and grandparents, looked on.

At one point, I got acquainted with the family’s newest member, a precious little girl just a week and a day old. As she lay, mercifully, sleeping in my lap, I couldn’t help but think about relatives who had once been a part of these Christmas gatherings, but were no longer.

Then it dawned on me, they were still part of the celebration. You could hear their voices in the laughter of the children as they enjoyed their gifts. You could see them in the smiling eyes of their children and grandchildren.

And as you gazed at the marvel of the sleeping baby, you could feel them gathered around.

Next Christmas, some of those sharing in the festivities Wednesday may not be on hand. They, like those who passed before them, will be missed.

But they won’t be absent. They will be present at that holiday gathering, and those for years to come, their spirits carried by those who remain.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at