Type 2 Holidays

November 23, 2020
The Shack

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with my son, Sam, and he made a reference to “Type 2 Fun.” It was a term I hadn’t heard before and when I questioned him on the meaning, he responded, “You know all those times when things don’t happened the way you expected, but it turns out to be an even better experience than what you could have planned? That’s Type 2 Fun. It’s those times that become the best stories.” I thought I understood, and I brought it up a year later, just after he had run into a concrete 16th century building in Prague with a rental car. I reminded him, “Remember Sam, this is Type 2 fun.” His reply was, “Now’s not the time to talk about that”. It seems Type 2 fun is usually something that becomes more apparent with some distance and reflection; we need time to let go of our expectations, and maybe the situation that caused the shift, so we can fully appreciate what actually happened. We need time to gain Type 2 perspective.

I recently began thinking about this concept as I was trying to navigate this holiday season. Our family has some traditions as to where we gather to celebrate the holidays. Normally, Thanksgiving Day is a quiet day with a few family members coming over to the house. On Friday, my adult children and their families begin arriving. Then on Saturday, our full house moves to my brother’s home for the day as we gather with extended family. We have a similar schedule around Christmas week. I am sure many of you have similar traditions where you more or less know where you’ll be in the last 6 weeks of every year, you know who will be at each gathering, and have expectations surrounding each day. There are parts of these traditions that we love and look forward to with great excitement each year. For some of us, there are also traditions that are unpleasant or make us feel a nervous anticipation, for example, the same relative failing to show for another year after once again saying they’d make it this time, or something as simple as that one aunt who brings the same inedible dessert every Christmas Eve. Some traditions make everyone in the room smile, others are accompanied by raised eyebrows and shared knowing glances. Traditions can be wonderful or awkward, but they are special because they belong to us, they are moments we share with people we love.

This year’s Holiday Season will be different for our family. We are taking the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously. We wear masks whenever we leave the home, we limit gatherings to immediate family, and we sanitize our hands after touching anything. We’ve forgone eating inside restaurants, canceled planned vacations, and had more Zoom visits than I can count. I believe the risk is too great to move forward with our traditional family gatherings this year. We have family members who are in high-risk categories that may not survive an infection. Getting together to celebrate holidays that are about gratitude, love, peace, and hope should not result in harm or possible harm to others.

In the past few weeks as I’ve thought about what the 2020 holidays would look like, I’ve felt a tightness in my chest, the tears well up in my eyes, and I quickly shift my thoughts to something more pleasant. Which led me to think about a Christmas I spent with my family a few years ago that ended up being a Christmas to remember.

My father has some land and a cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He loves this spot and considers it his own little slice of heaven. For years he’s been saying that his one wish was to spend a Christmas with his family there. I’m sure that conjures up a Norman Rockwell painting or possibly a Hallmark Holiday movie setting of home in the woods under full moon, snow lighting falling outside as a large family gathers inside. Some members preparing a large meal in the fully-equipped kitchen, others gathered around a large fireplace sipping cocoa and telling stories, and children in matching pajamas looking out the window for Santa. That does sound lovely, but while all Hallmark Holiday movies have indoor plumbing, my dad’s place is one-room hunting cabin, it has electricity but no running water. The spot we affectionately referred to as The Shack, is one room heated by a wood-burning stove with 4 beds inside and several cot-sized beds on the enclosed, but not heated, porch that doubles as a bunk house.

When my 3 siblings and I would hear him bring up his idea we’d nod, change the subject, leave the room, and pray he would forget about his Christmas wish. Does he not understand we have our own families that we spend Christmas with? How can find the time to drive 5 hours to spend a weekend away during this busy time of the year? We have all that to do and more waiting for us at home. What will our children do and say? Where will they go for Christmas? All these concerns we’re valid, and we knew, so was our dad’s crazy dream.

Two years ago, as we celebrated his 85th birthday in October, I reflected on this wish of his. I called my siblings, and of course they had been thinking about it too. They hadn’t forgotten. Who could?  We all concluded it was now or never, so we set aside our own Christmas traditions, left most of our families behind, packed up some Christmas decorations, and headed north to The Shack.

We went into the woods to cut down a tree, spent an afternoon making ornaments and Christmas cookies. We decorated the tree, sat around the old iron wood stove, and exchanged $10 gifts. We told stories of Christmases as we grew up and shared laughs and memories of our times in the UP. Of all the Christmases that I have spent with my father that is the one I will remember forever. That time with my dad and siblings could never be replicated. It was magical. It was a Type 2 Christmas.

So, as we venture into this uncharted, unfamiliar COVID-19 Holiday Season, I am going to remember that this year is not going to look like any other year. I will be doing family dinners differently. I will be seeing and hearing from people in different ways. Perhaps even gift giving may be different. I will miss our traditions and I will be sad I can’t hug people I love. I will struggle knowing my family members are struggling too. But I can move forward. I can find new ways to honor old traditions. I can look for, and find, the magic. It can be a Type 2 Holiday Season.