I know what you are thinking. Oh look, another criticism of other people; Looks like another stream of complaining about why the world is a full of morons; How jaded can this person be?! It is one thing to go after my mother, my husband, my high school reunion, the 4th of July, and Facebook. But to go after The Holiday Season? I must be insane – jaded and skeptical beyond all semblance of human recognition.
Or perhaps I am honest.
In just a few, short hours, people across America will begin to indulge in the most self-indulgent, glutenous holiday of the year – Thanksgiving. This will then kick off the season of indulgence (on the part of American people, and people at large in the world in some cases) – what we now refer to under one, all-encompassing umbrella of The Holiday Season. During this season, we will eat, spend, binge, and drink more than at any other time of the year. I must be truly jaded to think there is something wrong here.
But to be truly jaded, I would have to be looking at facts in a skewed-way. I would have to look incorrectly at the fact that on Thanksgiving day, Americans consume roughly 4500 calories (two to three times the daily recommendation); the big meal, itself, constituting an average of 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat. I would have to be inaccurately questioning what it says about our culture that on the biggest shopping day of the year, people are so desperate to spend and get deals that they will trample a man to death in a stampede of angry shoppers. And while it was proven that jaded people were skewing the facts in asserting that suicide rates in fact increase during the holiday season, I would have to be truly demented to actually believe the Mayo Clinic’s recent report findings that depression and stress increase significantly between Thanksgiving and New Years, with suicide rates rising significantly shortly after in the spring. What absurdity!
How unAmerican to question the fact that people (during the holiday season) gauge who they should spend their money on based on who is going to spend money on them. This year, my husband and I made a Christmas spending budget, on which we listed people among our families, friends, and professional lives – almost all of whom I had no idea why we were purchasing gifts for them, except for the sense of guilt and obligation that hangs its ugly self over our heads. Further is the fact that by and large people in our culture seem to feel obligated to spend every holiday doing the same, monotonous thing with people they otherwise would not associate with. One is considered “weird” and “untraditional” if they do not engage in the same, exact thing every year; with the same people; and along the same lines as what everyone else in the country (or world) are doing. And I cannot tell you the number of times I, or others that I know (and there are many), have gone against the “traditional” route of holiday time and done something different; yet in the end, received nothing other than flack, scorn, and guilt for it.
Who is the better person, though? One who spends every holiday conforming to what others want them to do? Or one who spends the holidays doing what they want, while enriching their familial and friendly relations during the rest of the year? The other day my husband mentioned that he would like to see his family over the holidays, to which I responded “but they live within 30 minutes, if you really want to see them, why do you need a holiday to do so? Why not pick up the phone right now.” He, of course, had no response.
But in a post-modern society; where we value diversity of opinions, culture, beliefs, and thought – in an age where tolerance reigns, who are we to judge?
Perhaps I am jaded, cynical, and crazy – the most unAmerican of all Americans; but it seems that “tradition” is no longer anything other than a term used to judge each other. “Untraditional” is a bad word in this country; and it states that there is a standard by which we judge other things as being right or wrong. But who are we to judge? Who are we to call something a person does “untraditional,” when, in fact, the term has become so muddied with modern interpretation that it no longer bears much meaning at all? If there is a person who would rather ski in the Alps on Christmas day, or have a Chinese meal of tofu and vegetables on Thanksgiving, what right do we have to call it “untraditional?”
In other words, just because something is a traditional for you does not mean it is a traditional for others.
There are inherent problems with some of the mainstream behaviors our culture engages in during The Holiday Season. Indulgence on such a grand scale (no matter how you look at it) is never a good thing. But there is something to be said for respecting each other’s opinions – no matter who they are in your life. If your daughter decides she is going to spend the holidays backpacking with friends, you should be happy for her. If your aunt has decided to prepare a healthy, low-fat holiday meal, then you should go if you want healthful foods, or find a new place for you to stuff your face. At the end of the day (and by day, I mean our lives), we will judge ourselves not on how many “traditions” we engaged in with others based on their expectations, but how fulfilled we feel in what we have done with our lives. The only real question that remains, though, is whether the mainstream “traditions” (for those that do do them) are really what is desired? Do people who say they want to do the Thanksgiving feast really actually want to do it? Do people who spend more on Christmas gifts for people they barely know than a birthday card for their own children really feel this is the right thing to do? Do we really want the “tradition,” or have we just convinced ourselves in (perhaps) the grandest con of our own selves?
As the clock strikes midnight at the end of the holiday season, people all over the world will be looking around for someone to ring in the New Year with a kiss – the ultimate of all holiday season “traditions.” Perhaps this year, though, we should all forgo the kiss and just take pause to consider, instead, what traditions we will create for ourselves in the years to come.