Monday, November 19, 2012

Building Family Traditions: Holiday Angst

The holidays-in the mall and on the main streets of small town Georgia-have arrived.

I get weird about the holidays.

In my youth, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter were obligatory family gathering days.  One might be excused from making the road trip back to Southeast Arkansas for only one of these holidays but you better not miss them both.  Unfortunately, I will probably be committing that cardinal sin this year.  I don't want to drive to Arkansas by myself, Wes can't go because he has to work on Black Friday, and there is no money in the till for an unnaturally expensive plane ticket.

So we will be riding out the holidays together-which if we are honest is what we really prefer anyway.  

Still, I will miss not being home with everyone else in too small and too hot rooms surrounded by somebody's too wild children.  I can't think about it too much-gotta maintain my stiff upper lip.

Instead, I have been focusing on developing some new family traditions for two holidays I feel pretty conflicted about.  I know too much American history to be down with Thanksgiving as it is commonly represented.  Smiling, smiling!, pilgrims and equally cheerful Indians over tables groaning with food. . . . Just.  No.  Added to that, the cute little food items on pinterest made out of cookies and chocolate and God knows what else shaped like turkeys and teepees plus all the little kid's craft projects of construction paper feather headbands and whatnot.  Just no some more.  

I won't lie-I got down with all of that when I was a kid but as I grew older and gained knowledge I started to see it for what it was.  A weird form of race theater that was cool with literally everyone I knew because no one I knew was Native American*-a phenomenon made possible by the very real waves of genocide that preceded and followed "manifest destiny". 

Would making cookie teepees as place card holders (seriously who are the folksy yet bourgeois people who come up with stuff like this) be the equivalent of slapping on some blackface?  I don't know.  Are there equivalency scales for racist-ness?  Anyway it makes me uncomfortable because I imagine it would make someone else uncomfortable. 

Which brings me to my weirdness about Christmas.  There is an aggressiveness around this holiday that seems to be growing.  I started to feel some kind of way about it when the whole vilification of the phrase "Happy Holidays" picked up steam a few years ago.  I always thought of Happy Holidays as an efficient and respectful way of politely wishing ones friends and acquaintances well.  After all, I don't know your life.  I don't know how you get down and frankly-that's your business.

But no, happy holidays was too inclusive.  It left the Christ out of Christmas which everyone, even the non-Christian among us, should be mortally offended by.  For a season of celebration and goodwill this was just so mean-spirited.  Beyond that, the religious commercialization of the holiday has been the most distasteful to me.  There is always a lot of talk about the true meaning of Christmas and the spirit of giving and all of that-but it seems that it is drowned out by the sheer amount of religious themed goods produced and sold just for the holiday.  I am not against spiritual celebrations-in fact, I will be having one of my own this year.  What I am against is the overwhelming prevalence of Christmas as the only spiritual celebration that really counts.

Also: Elf on the Shelf=Creepy.  There is an equivalency for you.

I leave you with two questions:  After you strip away the layers of tradition and popular culture, what remains?  How do you build new and better family traditions?

*Like for real Native American, not trying-to-pass-off-your-weave-as-genetic-inheritance-from-a-Cherokee-ancestor-only-you-have-knowledge-of. . . you know who you are and you know what I mean.

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