I struggle with "family issues" around holiday time; I think most of our family does, though we don't mention it. In our family there are a lot of old hatreds and wrongs that have never been addressed, though at the holidays we all get in the same room and try to be polite. All the unspoken clutter in the air can be uncomfortable. It has the feel of a bomb with a fuse, and every conversation is playing with matches.
Last time I wrote about these struggles in any depth, my to-do list for one relative included "Seek out chances to break the ice" and "Rehearse stories of every good thing they've ever done, back as far as I can remember, and in front of other people". I'd made some progress under ice-breaking. I'd even told a good story or two on this relative to my children. But I knew there was more to it than that. This particular relative of mine is very charming and incredibly helpful -- to everyone but family, I would find myself thinking in my worse moments.
In some corner of my mind I was aware that, whenever some important good was done in Biblical days, somehow or other the names and deeds of the people found their way into the permanent record. At one point it even mentions that a "scroll of remembrance" was written before God of all those who feared God and revered his name (Malachi 3:16). The solution was staring me in the face, but it took me awhile to reconcile myself to it: I needed to make a written record of all the good this person had ever done me. It took longer still before I could bring myself to put a pen to paper and actually write it.
Once I started writing, I was really surprised how quickly the list grew with all the helps and kindnesses the person had shown me over the years. The record was soon to two pages, with new memories tumbling over themselves to get onto the pages which were filled into the margins and packed tight to fit in all the things that were now coming to mind.
A few weeks came and went, and the "scroll of remembrance" faded from my mind. Once again I saw this person spending far more time on others and ignoring family. I spent Thanksgiving morning cleaning the house finding resentful thoughts creeping up around me. I was going to be in a terrible frame of mind to host Thanksgiving. Looking for a way to get my attitude under control, I re-read the "scroll of remembrance." (When I started, the nasty part of my mind said I should have a "scroll of remembrance" for all the horrible things this person had done, too. But I'm counting on God taking my own "horrible things" list and casting it in the sea and remembering it no more, so I figure I'd best not start a list like that for anyone else.)
The resentment melted away, and with the freshly defrosted heart, there was a suitable "neutral territory" in my home to host the sometimes-tense family gathering. There were still a few tense moments, glances exchanged at various things said ... but at the end the person whose "scroll" I'd read did something that I do not believe had ever done before: reached out and gave me a hug. (We'd been trading hugs ever since it got on my to-do list to find ways to break the ice. But this was the first time the other person had been the one to reach out.)
I don't know how anyone else's family is. I just know there's a lot of sin and brokenness in the world, and I take it we're not exactly the only family to struggle with all the togetherness during the holidays. For what it's worth, it did help in our case to write a scroll of remembrance of the good things the other person had done -- and to have it handy to re-read when it was badly needed. ;)