Published in the Chapel Hill Herald Sun December 2005

Holiday Family-itis

Family -ďrace or group of peoples from common stockď and Itis - ď(suffix), forming (nouns) esp. names of inflammatory diseases or of states of mindď. Familyitis. Iím quite sure this term does technically exist somewhere. Regardless, one of the symptoms would include avoiding, at all costs, any type of family groupings, especially those occurring at the end of the year.

There are many people afflicted with Familyitis that are not even aware of it. For them, there is an overall yet sublime feeling of malaise and discomfort as the months of November and December loom nearer. For some, panic is the predominating mood, as well as dread or agony. It is often one of those subdued emotions that is quickly denied and swept under the carpet; to admit to such uneasiness of being around certain members of your family would mean confronting other overwhelming obstacles of your life, like cleaning out the garage. Itís decided that it is best to grin and bear it with your fellow neighbor and take comfort in the fact that they are undergoing their own forms of Familyitis anguish: digging their nails into their palms at in-law comments or gnashing their teeth at prying inquiries during dinners. They probably also have to desperately rummage through drawers to retrieve earplugs for drowning out the presence of the gang downstairs which is occupying the living room sofa and all other bedding apparatus of the domain. These are admirable signs of tolerance and exacting fortitude to someone with full blown Familyitis.

Each November and December I wonder if airports are going to be as congested as last year and if this madness persists. I wonder if other than previous high terrorist alert levels, some other realization will dawn on people to group more locally this time, forgoing so many trips. But I realize for this to occur would mean less importance given to the holidays, which would mean less significance given to family, which would mean the entire country would be struck with Familyitis, which would mean families would stop sticking together and our whole social network and thus nation would crumble.

So itís a good thing that those that suspect they have a mild case of Familyitis just hide it. For people like me who have managed to avoid my husbandís family holiday dinners for ten years now, the condition will continue to define you. Although Iím neither agnostic nor Muslim, Iíve considered acquiescing to such beliefs just to dodge holiday interaction. After a about a decade people do tend to get the picture, however.

Origins of Familyitis:

Perhaps it is simply laziness. Women, for the most part, are the designated holiday fiasco managers. What female equipped with any amount of rationality relishes immaculately cleaning the entire house amid flu season and tight holiday budgets, all the while attempting to just keep warm? Who, every year, is perpetually in the holiday spirit of conjuring palatable, impressive feasts, orchestrating fancy household Christmas dťcor, or else preparing the grand upheaval of leaving town? None of this even includes the emotional whirlwind of re-encountering moderately long forgotten relatives, their ominous ear to ear smiles plastered before you.

Suffocation is another sensation akin to family holiday get-togethers. My own father-in-law admits to this, and he commends me for my rodent-like evasion action each year Ė perhaps some early childhood restraint instance or final family warfare has produced the Familyitis? Iíve given up wondering, choosing to believe that it is simply a condition I have to live with, at the same time mystified and appreciative of all those exuberant, unrelenting holiday goers and their loving energy. Hats off to all of you that just threw a successful Thanksgiving bash and are gearing up for the December ones - what is your secret to your Familyitis flare-ups?


Lauren Knapp-Resnik and her husband have been residents of Hillsborough for the past 11 months.