It’s Christmastime again.

That phrase can mean many things to many people. For me, it’s a wonderful thing and something I look forward to every year. I get excited about seeing family and old friends. After graduating college and getting married, my wife and I moved away from most of my family, so we don’t see them very often. Maybe a few times a year. Any time we get everyone together, though, it’s an absolute riot (a good kind of riot).

Something you should know about my family: it’s a crazy bunch. My dad comes from a family of eight (8!) kids, and my mom from a family of five kids. Between both sides of the family, I have 34 first cousins. When you count spouses, the number gets closer to 60. Then if you throw in all of the cousin’s kids…you get the point. It’s a big ol’ party anytime the extended families get together.

But now we’re all getting a bit older and the “new extended family” is starting to branch out from my immediate family. My parents have four kids (plus two spouses and two significant others) and four grandchildren. Their home in Indiana would start bursting at the seams if we all stayed there together longer than a week at a time. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Sure, we’ll get in a knock-down drag-out fight about something the pastor said at the Christmas Eve service. Or someone will say something offensive to someone else’s spouse or significant other. And you better believe someone is getting stabbed.

(It’ll be Alicia’s fault. She’s the stabber. Anytime we play Dutch Blitz – a super fast-paced and hyper-competitive card game – she lets her fingernails grow to ungodly lengths as part of her strategy. When someone goes in to play a card at the same time she does, blood will spill. And it works, because the rest of us get weary about challenging her in the future. )

(I swear, I think she stops clipping her nails at Thanksgiving just for the purposes of winning Dutch Blitz. I’m telling you, it’s a very competitive game, and Alicia is a winner.)

All that sounds negative, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My family has a way of bonding over things like this. We argue, then we laugh about it. We play games until curse words start flying around, and then we go make hot chocolate.

But we also have heartfelt conversations about what’s going on in each of our lives. A few years ago during a family vacation, my wife suggested we do something we now like to call “The 5 o’clock News”. Basically, during dinner, each of us take turns sharing what’s going on in our lives. Like I mentioned before, we don’t get to be together very often, so this new tradition has become one of my very favorite things in life. I love my family dearly, but I’m not great at being intentional to keep in contact with them. When we get together though, I’m all the way in.

During our “5 o’clock News”, we get deep. Sure, we talk about our successes over the past year. But more often, we talk about the things we’ve struggled with, or hard lessons we’ve learned. We talk about difficult things, like anxiety or depression. About being unemployed, or stressed with kids, or lonely. We laugh together a lot, but more often than not, all of us cry at some point.

And the coolest thing you’ll ever see is a family rallying around each other. A few years ago during that same family vacation, I shared that I was struggling massively with depression and anxiety, and it was leading to some addictive behaviors. That led to some very real and raw conversations with some of my siblings who were also dealing with the same kinds of anxieties. We were able to encourage each other. And now, well, it’s not perfect, but there has been incredible growth and success on all counts.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve come to realize that my family is incredible. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I could spend 10,000 words describing all the warts. But something we do have going for us is a genuine love and respect for each other. My parents weren’t perfect, but their greatest success was teaching each of us kids how to treat others, how to serve others, and how to love well.

As I think about raising my own children, I look at my mom and dad and my siblings, and I hope I’m doing this right. Sure, there’s room for improvement in certain areas, and any sane person wants their kids to do better as parents than they did. But I just hope I can capture the same level of love and respect I have for my parents and siblings and instill that in my own children.

‘Tis the season to be merry and bright, right? Enjoy your time away from work. Allow yourself to unplug from the internet (except, of course). Make the most of your time with family and friends.  From everyone here at The Muggo…

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.