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November 21, 2017

As the Holidays Descend Upon Us…

By Vega SubramaniamVermont Autumn Colors

Ah, the holiday season. What is it about this time of year that I find so…unnecessary?

I kid.

I am sure there are people out there who have an uncomplicated, wholly joyous relationship to the holiday season. I can’t say I’ve ever met either of them, but surely they exist.

This post is for the rest of us. It’s mostly questions that I feel must have answers that I just haven’t figured out yet (shocking!). If you’ve found answers, or if not answers, progress toward answers, I’d be grateful to hear.

I’ll admit that I feel at least some sense of gladness as the holidays approach, because…let me back up. Every year, at the bright and shiny beginning, I imagine a meaningful year filled with meaningful connections with people who are meaningful to me. I vow to keep these connections going on a regular basis over the course of the year. And then November hits, along with the sinking recognition of how few people I actually connected with at all this year, let alone on a, haha, regular basis. The holiday party circuit gives me just this one last chance to make good on my Januarial vow. I’ll admit that I look forward to the holiday party circuit for this reason alone.

And yet.

Social connections are curious beasts. They’re vital to our wellbeing, or so I hear (also, apparently, there’s a Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, which, yay, talk about filling a gap). They’re also a pain in the ass. And then comes the time of reckoning that is the holiday season. The holiday season is a mess (and I’m not gonna mention how this year is so much worse because of that guy I will not name). There is a reason for all those drunk-uncle, nosy-aunt, embarrassing-dad, guilt-tripping-mother jokes. “Jokes.” Because they’re “funny,” those tragicomic anecdotes about our Thanksgiving dinner table fracas. They’re especially “funny” for people without familial tragicomedy because of prison/deportation/death/estrangement/global capitalist displacement.

It’s not just fraught family dynamics, though, right? It’s also Thanksgiving history and unlearning fictions about Indigenous people (and also, Teen Vogue, don’t ever stop doing what you do) and Christmas history and commercialization and (redundancy alert) capitalism run amok and false charity and politicization of cherished sacred traditions—OK, yeah, let me not try to actually enumerate the endless list of things that contaminate the holiday season.

That said, abolishing federal holidays on Thanksgiving and Christmas is a non-starter, I’m guessing. Call me Einstein.

To be clear, I’m not only a dour bleeding-heart reverse-racist grinch who wants to abolish Christmas. I am also a humorless vegetarian feminazi who, stay with me here, happens to love Christmas carols (there I said it) and ritual and festive gatherings. As a child, I totally got a kick out of putting up and decorating the (albeit fake) Christmas tree in our Hindu-atheist home, and wrapping presents (including my own, when my parents got too busy, bless their hearts), and baking cookies. I crocheted red-and-green afghans and potholders as gifts. And as for Thanksgiving, we took advantage of the four-day holiday to have friends over, visit friends, and generally make merry. Lots of comings-and-goings, which is one of my favorite things.

That said, and back to being dour and fascist, I also remember knowing it was hollow and self-serving to only notice poor children for one day a year. And anyone who has ever worked in retail on either December 24 or December 26, as I did for many years, will know the hypocrisy of people being the worst, most greedy, most consumerist, meanest, most short-tempered human beings on the planet, all in the service of joy and selflessness and divine and glorious love for all humanity.

Where was I.

Oh, right: questions. How do we create a smooth way through? What’s the reclaiming to be had?

I know some of us create our own versions, like Friendsgiving (thank you, Jenna) gatherings, to make the season tolerable. I wonder what kinds of activities, conversations, rituals could or do enhance these experiences? How to strike a balance, however weird, between acknowledging how horrific the traditions are and how fraught family relationships are, while also taking advantage of the fact of federal holidays and, to some extent, the festive atmosphere? How to both say “Happy Thanksgiving!” and “Merry Christmas!” and also hold onto our criticisms of both?

Here’s my hope. That we survive the holiday season and maybe even have some really, truly exhilarating moments. That we connect and/or reconnect with people who are meaningful to us, if ever so briefly. That we remember and/or rediscover the value of loved ones and rituals in our lives.

Here’s to us. Here’s to our connection, strength, and compassion. Here’s to the promise of better days.

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