With the holiday season nearly upon us, lots of people are anticipating — or dreading — the journey home.
It depends, of course, on who you are.
The lead-up to the season’s formal dinner parties and their associated traditions can be exciting, angst-ridden or a mixture of both.
In any case, the increasing anxiety we feel as these obligatory get-togethers approach has far less to do with preparing for the festivities, as it does with the family members who will actually be attending them.
You know who they are, and how each one can push your buttons in a way that’s totally unique to them.
It’s been this way your whole life and as far as you’re concerned, it’s never, ever going to change — so you’re holding your breath to slog through another holiday season as best you can.
No matter how “spiritual” you might be, or how much therapy you’ve gone through, there’s something about going back home that can reduce you to your 16-year-old self in an instant.
If it’s any consolation, it was spiritual leader Ram Dass himself who said, “If you think you’re spiritually enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving.”
Yes, your bossy aunt will still be bossy, and your mother will probably qualify her compliment on your pumpkin pie with her opinion that it could have used a touch more cinnamon.
The best and worst thing about home is that it never changes.
The good news is that you most likely have changed, and because of that, you have the ability to create a healthy and healing holiday season for yourself.
That has everything to do with how you set your mind, as well as how you set your dinner table.
Color & Convention
In the 1930s, when America was in the throes of the Great Depression, the Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell, West Virginia began producing a strange brand of dinnerware.
Up until that time, most dinnerware was highly formal (and expensive) with perfectly matching cups, plates, bowls and saucers.
This new line of dinnerware was known as Fiesta and broke all the rules about how a table should be properly set.
The simple, but sturdy, pieces came in six solid colors: red, blue, yellow, green, ivory and turquoise.
Because they had no intricate graphic design on them, Fiesta pieces could be mixed and matched to create a table setting that was monochromatic, bursting like a rainbow or something in between.
The best part about Fiesta was that it was cheap and could be bought by the piece. Up until that time, china had to be purchased as a set.
As we all now know, this idea was a hit with Americans, and Fiesta became the first solid color dinnerware to be successfully sold on the market this way.
With money so extremely tight for most families at the time, it seems incredible that Fiesta could find such success when it did. Some have speculated that the bright bursts of color provided by Fiesta dinnerware gave a much-needed emotional boost to a public that was as depressed as their economy.
I believe that while those beautiful colors were a part of that success, the real reason that Fiesta succeeded is that the company believed that real prosperity was to be found in the boisterous love and beauty that arose from people gathered around a dinner table — whatever the economy or world politics might bring.
“Like a set of imperfect dinnerware, we can put our family on a shelf and turn all the chips and cracks toward the wall, pretending it’s something it’s not — or we can lay it all out on the table with the irregularities on full display.”
A Matter of Perspective
Fiesta dinnerware continued to gain popularity through the 1950s and is still manufactured today.
Every once in a while, an excited owner will bring a piece from the original Fiesta line onto The Antiques Roadshow program on PBS for appraisal. It’s sad to see their hopes dashed when they’re told Fiesta pieces really aren’t worth that much — mainly because they were produced on such a large scale for so many years.
But while Fiesta pieces may not be rare, they still hold immense value.
That value lies in the countless stories they have to tell from the thousands of shared meals and holiday dinners they’ve served on the tables of generations of Americans.
This brings to mind a theatrical production of a one-man show I recently saw called American Fiesta, written by Steve Tomlinson.
In the show, the main character is a collector of Fiesta dinnerware and approaches a woman whom he believes can fix his grandmother’s chipped bowl.
To his astonishment, she’s actually blind and offers him a high price to purchase the damaged piece instead. After he asks her why she made the offer, the woman explains that like him, she is also a collector but is only interested in damaged pieces.
Realizing that she’s only compounded his confusion, the blind woman takes the man’s fingers and guides them along the damaged areas of some of her favorite pieces.
A crack on the side of a bowl told the story of someone who beat their spoon and their anger into the meal they were preparing.
The chip on the edge of a plate was the mark left by someone who dropped it to run into the loving arms of another who needed them.
The broken edge of a coffee mug revealed the moment it fell over because someone was daydreaming at their desk about a better job.
Looked at from this perspective, these so-called flaws weren’t defects in the pieces — they were moments frozen in time.
They were marks that defined each piece’s character, connecting it to the family or person who used it.
A Perfect Set
Just like these dishes bore chips, cracks, and scratches, our souls bear impact points from the love, loss, hope, regret, anger and other emotions we experience during our lives.
These impact points — these marks — make us uniquely who we are.
This goes for the sister-in-law who constantly complains about everything each Thanksgiving, and the uncle who insists the turkey has to be carved his way.
There are real stories behind these character traits. They’ve emerged because each of those people experienced something that left an indelible mark on their hearts.
Like a set of imperfect dinnerware, we can put our family on a shelf and turn all the chips and cracks toward the wall, pretending it’s something it’s not — or we can lay it all out on the table with the irregularities on full display.
We can recognize that it’s perfectly imperfect.
What may strike us as personality flaws in family members are often social cues that are there to help us heal.
Why does certain behavior upset us?
No one can make us feel anything — rather, it’s our interpretation of an incident that gives rise to our reaction. Relatives who drive us crazy are signaling to us that we need to look inward, to see which impact point a situation is triggering in our hearts — and why. We all need someone in our lives to reframe this idea of chipped and flawed personalities as something else: mutual healing partnerships.
Because that’s what they are.
“No two people will be affected in exactly the same way by the same experience in life either. That’s what makes your dinnerware set and your family uniquely your own.”
Just as the old blind woman in American Fiesta delicately guided the young collector’s fingers over the chipped dinnerware to extract its history, seeing the loving essence and humanity beneath the imperfections of others (and ourselves) requires a similarly fine-tuned perception, not the heavy hand of judgment.
Nothing needs to be fixed.
While there are thousands of pristine Fiesta sets in the hands of collectors, none look like this one. Try as you might, you’ll never be able to crack or chip two pieces in exactly the same way twice.
No two people will be affected in exactly the same way by the same experience in life either. That’s what makes your dinnerware set and your family uniquely your own.
If that’s not something that can be celebrated, at least it can be pleasantly tolerated with the slightest shift in perspective.
The amazing thing about Fiesta dinnerware is that no matter how many colors you’ve set out on the table, it’s designed so that, regardless of the combination, the colors always go together — chips, cracks and all.
The same could be said for families, too.
Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the co-founder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative health center based in Los Angeles. He provides revolutionary healing protocols in integrative, osteopathic, anthroposophical, environmental, and family medicine, as well as clinical pharmacology. He served as an attending Physician and Clinical Facilitator at UCLA-SM Medical Center and is currently a Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Sadeghi is a regular contributor to Goop, CNN, BBC News and TEDx. He is the author of Within: A Spiritual Awakening to Love & Weight Loss, as well as the foreword to Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, and is the publisher of the health and well-being journal, MegaZEN.