published Friday, October 28th, 2011

Leber: Happiness, family, guilt and pie -- the holidays are almost here

It's only October, but hints of the holiday season are already spreading like the common cold.

Last week, the iTunes store was featuring a Justin Bieber tune titled "Mistletoe," and a friend gleefully posted a picture of Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes on Facebook.

Yes, the retail industry would have us believe it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and while that is not, I repeat, not yet the case, the holiday season will be upon us sooner than we know. And while I love that time of year, there should be no bloody boughs of holly before Santa rides the float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yes, for normal people, the official kickoff of the holiday season is Thanksgiving.

This is the primary holiday in my family. It's always been a big deal, and if at all humanly possible, we are all four together, among family and friends. I can think of only four instances where this was not the case.

Because seeing my family requires plane travel, advance planning is necessary. The problem is that my significant other, with whom I very much wish to spend the holiday, won't know until the last minute whether he'll have time off.

Believe me, I wanted to refuse to get a plane ticket to New York. But had I done that, my parents and sister would have insisted on coming to Chattanooga. This would mean extra plane fare and hotel rooms, as well as taking my sister away from her own boyfriend for the holiday.

"You should go," Joe insisted, because he is a genuinely good person. "It's important to your family. It means a lot to them."

So I got a ticket. If he gets the time off, we figured, hopefully he can get one too, and he can be with me for Thanksgiving. Which, incidentally, now includes my sister's boyfriend's family, including his brother's girlfriend, and a visiting cousin. And while I'll welcome them all warmly, now I really do not want to spend the holiday unescorted. You understand, right?

But then, Joe's mother calls. If he can get time off for Thanksgiving, she asks, can he come home?

I should do the right thing. He almost never gets to see his family, including his baby niece and nephew. He did the stand-up thing for my family. If the opportunity arises, I should do the same, right?

Of course I should. But blast it, I don't want to. Oh, I will. I'm sure I will, because if I don't, the guilt of not doing the right thing will be worse than the sting of missing him over apple pie.

"What do you want to do about it?" I asked Joe.

"Take you with me to my mother's," he replied.

Sweet idea, not an option at this point. Here are the options: 1) He has to work and has Thanksgiving here, alone. He's lonely, I miss him, I feel guilty. 2) He gets time off and comes home with me. I'm happy, but feel really guilty about not insisting he go to his mother's. 3) He gets time off and goes to his mother's. I have a clear conscience, but spend the holiday missing him. There are no perfect options.

Trying to find happiness and avoid guilt? Balancing selfishness and doing the right thing? Juggling the needs of multiple groups of people who live in different places? Plus pie?

My goodness, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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