So here's something I never in my life thought I'd be doing: walking around the poshest mall in Dallas with six grown nieces and nephews I barely knew, all decked out in the most garish Christmas sweaters we could find, stopping strangers to ask them to judge us in an "ugly sweater contest." But that's exactly what I did this past weekend.
One of the judges was so pleased with her task that she posted a picture of her moment of glory on Facebook:
Little by little I got to know the rest of the huge-hearted Mills family clan, and this year they invited my sister and me to join them in Texas for what they were calling "Thanksmas." We celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday, sharing a huge feast served upon a groaning table, with sixteen of us present (including two neighbors who carried over a table needed at the last minute, and were invited to sit down to dine with us). Friday was devoted to a "National Lampoon Christmas Vacation" shopping trip, with all of us wearing the aforementioned holiday sweaters. Saturday counted as Christmas, where we exchanged the gifts we had purchased on the marathon shopping day for names we had drawn the day before.
What a strange thing family is. I've never wanted to fetishize genetic connection; I've been puzzled by adopted friends who spent years searching for their birth parents; I've always believed that what makes a family is shared history, lived history, not the mere, almost accidental facts of biology. And yet I love these people I just met, whose only tie to me, before our meeting, was the fact that we are related. (Of course, it helps that they themselves are the most loving people I've ever encountered.) I loved being part of this big clan dazzling the upscale Galleria mall in our loud, proud sweaters. I loved belonging to them and having them belong to me.
When my sister and I returned to our nearby motel on "Christmas" evening, to pack for our crack-of-dawn departure the next day, my niece Rene, the one who hosted Thanksmas at her home, texted me that she had forgotten something and was on her way to the motel to give it to us. Could we meet her in the lobby in a few minutes? We did. And what had she forgotten? To give us a full-fledged hug; the one she had given earlier, she had decided, only counted as half a hug.
There is nothing sweeter than a heart-hug from a newly discovered niece at the close of my first-ever Thanksmas.