Here is what I hate the most about the holidays. It isn’t the blatant lack of cultural knowledge of what the holidays actually represent. It isn’t the materialism that bleeds out of every nook and cranny. It isn’t the consumerism, the over-indulgence, or even the misguided judgments that what ‘I’ do for the holidays is what everyone should do.
The day after Thanksgiving, I saw some articles from the Baltimore Sun featured on Google News. They were opinion pieces about how earlier shopping options for Black Friday deals were breaking away at family values – that people deciding to go to stores late Thanksgiving day was the wrong thing to do because it cut into family time. It also stated that Thanksgiving’s meaning is to embrace family – a statement so unambiguously false I shot out of my chair and began pacing around the room as I deciphered just what I would respond with. The article accepted comments that were clean, relevant, and within a certain word count – all guidelines I abided by to the strictest sense.
And yet, my comment was never approved by the opinion editor of the Baltimore Sun. So much for freedom of speech.
If you look at the great thinkers in the history of the world, you see that centuries of guidance on avoiding family have been put forth as obscurely as in the old Ben Franklin quote about in-laws “keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards;” and as blatantly as when George Burns said “happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” Jesus even said that people are to “leave behind your families, your mothers and your fathers” to go out and do what is right in the world. How, then, has family – and dysfunctional family at that – completely taken over our entire lives, then – and to such a degree that we will let it cloud our judgment on things (like free speech) that are entirely unrelated to family at all?
I have a few thoughts on how.
To begin, I do not believe that the people who obsess and focus their lives solely on family are very intelligent. This explains why no one has taken heed of the century’s worth of advice from the great thinkers. Take a look at the people that argue in favor of the family values campaigns; or even of the average conversation at your typically banal family gathering. Some of them cannot even communicate using the English language very well any more; in fact, in one of the opinion letters, the person did not even take the time to check their typos and misspellings. I don’t know if I have ever had an intelligent conversation at a family event. At both my and my husband’s family events, everyone is either talking about gossip or Dancing With the Stars. There is no discussion of literature, great film, the aesthetic arts, politics, or society.
If the mundane conversation about what everyone’s been up to at work, and the consistency of each other’s bowel movements and hemorrhoid troubles (a popular topic at our family dinners) is what truly makes these people happy – by all means, continue on. But it is evidence to the decreased awareness so many people have about the greater picture of life and the world. It might also explain why less than 25% of Americans know the actual history and meanings behind the holidays they hold so dear.
Further, I strongly feel that a variety of societal factors have played a part in creating the problem of enmeshed families, which is on the verge of being a psychological epidemic. I’ve talked about enmeshed family theory before. It’s the socio-psychological theory that a family becomes so over involved in each other’s lives that massive levels of stress and dysfunction arise, as well as the younger members of the family growing to be socially awkward and ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities an adult must be able to deal with. I’ve been in a few relationships where the significant other’s family is one of these enmeshed ones – everyone is so up in each other’s business at all times it’s a wonder any of them know the concept of “personal life.” What arises from such a situation, though, is just more dysfunction. Gossip, hurt feelings, miscommunication, and – most importantly – expectations on each other that are beyond what any reasonable person can expect. I think this is where someone would think it is hurting the value of family to have stores open a few hours into Thanksgiving day, such as in the case of the Baltimore Sun articles I mentioned above. And this is also why so many people now see the holidays as exclusively family time.
I say forget about family.
That doesn’t mean to completely isolate yourself from family altogether; but it means to be yourself, do what you want, and don’t allow yourself to feel obligated, manipulated, or bullied into complying with a set of family values you may not agree with completely. And to those that feel like family is the only thing important in the world, open your mind just a smidgeon and remember that in a post-modern society, everyone gets to determine for themselves what is right and wrong. That means that your family values are not absolute truth for everyone.
Oh…and boycott the Baltimore Sun. Censoring a clean and legitimate opinion is not what I’d call “journalism.” How often in history do we see that the things being silenced end up being the truest?