Christmas is a lot to unpack in a family that leaves a cult and loses its matriarch and patriarch within a five-year time span.
My maiden name is McCoy, and if you’re thinking of the fighting Scots-Irish rival of the Hatfield variety, you’re right on the money. If our ancestral reputation gives you any indication of what our family might be like, we’re a loud, red-faced (rosacea runs rampant in our midst) bunch of Appalachians.
You could say we were all pretty messed up, flat out weird about losing our grandmother and grandfather within a few years, not to mention what my cousins were going through having left a cult that sunk its teeth into them in college. I remember looking at my cousins during my grandmother’s funeral and feeling like I was meeting new people, not experiencing loss with the people we’d eaten Sunday lunch with forever. The world looked different with that much grief. We looked different. We needed a drink.
Like all children of Southern Baptist families, my dad and aunt never saw their parents drink alcohol. My grandfather feared alcoholism, my grandmother probably feared what people thought. When it came time for them to make their own decisions to imbibe, dad and my aunt kept their drinking private. Just easier that way.
The Christmas after my grandmother died was the first time alcohol made an appearance at a family gathering. My uncle brought back a recipe for Sangria from a recent trip to Spain and had made an ungodly potent beverage to be dispensed innocently from one of those fancy containers with a pour spout. My grandfather was in attendance (only a year and some change away from his own passing), but with the way things had been going for everyone that year, no one really gave a damn if he cared or not. It wasn’t long before we were feeling real good. Suddenly things we’d always wanted to say to each other came out with ease. Necks were hugged and tears were shed.
In the South, we’re known for passive aggressive judgement. We dish it as much as we fear it, but once we let loose, we quit fearing and we’re ourselves. It was what we’d all wanted in a family Christmas dinner all along—not the stiff, sugar-coated time of polite conversation and fake smiles over bad gifts given between people who really didn’t know each other that we’d all previously experienced.
Since then, it’s become a family tradition to have Sangria on Christmas, and true to tradition, we’re an affectionate bunch of familial drinking buddies.
From our ruddy-faced, reformed-Southern Baptist family to yours: cheers.