Someone recently asked me how to deal with grudges within Italian American families during holiday time. Should you or shouldn’t you invite people to your parties who haven’t spoken to each other for perhaps years?
The short answer is YES.
Let me start by saying that old grudges are not specific to families of Italian heritage. Human beings –no matter what their ethnicity–have feelings , and sometimes those feelings get hurt through their erroneous perception of another’s intention. Most family members do not actively seek to be malicious to their own flesh and blood. That is not to say that it cannot happen, but more often, long-time grudges are born of someone’s unintentional blunders. People get upset over small incidents that to an outside observer would seem silly, but those who are directly involved are unable to put common relational glitches into perspective and move on. I have a solution that is not 100 percent fool proof, but it may work to draw some self-marginalized relatives back into the fold: I call it a no-nonsense invitation to forgive.
You can start by making a guest list of each person you would like to have come to your family event, if the situation were ideal. Separate your list into two columns: Those who you know will come to le feste without hesitation, and those who are likely to feign outrage and throw your invitation into the trash. Send written invitations to those in the first column, but make personal phonecalls to those in the second. Why? Because in showing kindness and warmth to those how hold resentment, you have the ability to put an end to the poisonous cold wars that deprive all of you from what the holiday season should really be about: LOVE.
Tell each person on that “grudge” list that you acknowledge their past hurts, but want to offer everyone the gift of an opportunity to heal and love each other again. Tell them how much their presence would mean to everyone ; you especially. When you speak to them, do not allow them to gossip or complain about anyone else in the family. Simply show them love, respect, and a welcoming demeanor. Ask that person to show the goodness in his/her heart, by accepting your invitation. Regardless of the response, always end your conversation by reiterating the time and place of the event, and telling what that person might bring to the party if desired. While not everyone will let themselves be touched by this loving gesture, some will not be able to resist a chance to do what they may have just been too proud to do on their own. They may be relieved and grateful to take their rightful place around your holiday table once again this season. At the same time, you will have given everyone a holiday gift that no money in the world could buy–compassion, and a realistic acceptance of human mistakes and the opportunity for redemption—all themes that run commonly through Dante’s Divine Comedy. Remember how Dante entered Inferno, a place that donned a sign that read: “lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate” (Canto III, “abandon all hope you who enter”), and yet instead of being doomed to remain there, he exited his Hell, transformed himself, and eventually found his pathway to Paradiso. As long as there is life, there is hope. You can be a ray of hope to all members of your family this holiday season, by creating a little paradiso within your family dynamic.
Buone feste, Cari Lettori!