Disclaimer: This article can be construed as more cynical and derisive than my other pieces, but it is only my opinion and not reflective of the general population’s attitude toward holidays.
I used to really look forward to holidays. Halloween was special because I got to play pretend for a night and collect free candy from my neighbors. The 4th of July was special because I got to play with sparklers in my backyard and watch fireworks. And Christmas? Christmas was the mother of all holidays. Traditionally, my family and I would attend church on Christmas Eve, return home for a nice dinner, open up at least one present, and watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life to end the night. On Christmas Day, I could never contain my excitement! It seemed there were no limits to the joy and ecstasy that came along with opening up gifts and finally discovering what Santa had brought me.
But now, I can safely say that my limits, if they ever existed, have been reached.
Beginning my exasperation with the institution of holidays is the language we use to describe it. Is it “holidays” or “THE holidays”? We use “the holidays” to refer to the Christmas season, and we use “holidays” to refer to any day or days of the year where society celebrates something that is deemed important. But here’s where my problem lies: why do Christmas and New Year’s receive this special designation? Why do Christmas and New Year’s fall under this arbitrary category of “the holidays,” but not Valentine’s Day, The 4th of July, Halloween, or Thanksgiving? Does Thanksgiving even meet the criteria to be categorized as a holiday under “the holidays”? When do the holidays begin for most people? Directly after Thanksgiving or on the first day of December? I’m confused.
As you can probably tell, there is an intrinsic aura of ambiguity with this type of language because it doesn’t specify what makes Christmas and New Year’s take precedence over all of the other holidays we’re supposed to celebrate throughout the year. Moreover, it fails to communicate the importance of Christmas and New Year’s relative to the holidays that some people are particularly sensitive to, like Veteran’s or Memorial Day.
Also, consider the ritual of gift giving. Why must we assign certain days of the year to show our appreciation for our loved ones through a monotonous, superficial giving-and-exchanging of material objects? Is it even a ritual, or a glorified chore? It’s not so much that we buy gifts out of spontaneity, but out of a sense of obligation to comply with the rigid standards that society has set for us. If gift-giving was intended to be spontaneous, then we wouldn’t feel so compelled to, for example, scavenge flowers and candy for Valentine’s Day. We would do it no matter the time of year.
That’s not to say that I’m totally against the ritual of gift-giving. Under the right circumstances, it can show that you know the person well and that you’re always thinking about them. Gift-giving only becomes problematic when it’s treated as a mechanism for nurturing relationships. Therefore, it’s important that we draw that line between buying a gift as a show for the deeper feelings we have for another person (romantic or otherwise), and buying a gift just because it’s expected of us by society.
Extending from gift giving is a lack of clarity with what holidays represent. I guarantee that the average person could tell you that Christmas originates from the birth of Jesus Christ, and that the 4th of July originates from the conception of the United States. But what about Saint Patrick’s Day? Valentine’s Day? Halloween? Don’t worry, I’m not sure either. What’s worse is that the values and sentiments rooted in universally celebrated holidays get lost in the mess of mindless consumerism and greedy business practices. In fact, the holiday industry, taken together, generates billions of dollars a year, with an increasing number of people opting to celebrate religious holidays (Bender, 2016). It doesn’t help that the timing of these holidays has been precipitously pushed back over the years so that companies can cash in on seasonal profits much earlier than before. For example, Halloween merchandise becomes available in August while Christmas merchandise becomes available as early as September.
The final source of my exasperation with holidays involves how we’re conditioned to celebrate them. Thanksgiving and New Year’s are two examples of this rather erroneous conditioning. Let’s take Thanksgiving: why should I remind myself of what I’m thankful for on just one arbitrarily designated day of the year? Shouldn’t I do that every day? It’s a similar case with New Year’s resolutions. If I really wanted to improve upon some aspect of myself, I wouldn’t wait until the first of January. I would do so immediately, because I knew that if I waited, then I would never follow through. The notion that we can do “this” or “that” differently or magically transform ourselves just because we’re transitioning into a new year is, at the end of the day, another excuse for procrastination. There is no “next year” or “next week.” Only right now.
At this point, it might sound like I harbor a deep-rooted contempt for holidays. I’d like to think that my attitude toward the holiday institution, no matter how negative, is directly connected to the years I’ve spent working in retail. I’ve seen firsthand the greed, gluttony, and pandemonium marked by Thanksgiving and Christmas rushes, and thus I’ve learned to associate the darker side of consumerism with holidays. On the other hand, I understand that there are positive dimensions to holidays. They can make people feel like they are part of something more important than just themselves, and bring splintered or dysfunctional families together again. In addition, gift giving can (as I’ve stated before) be a show of thoughtfulness, while seasonal merchandise can greatly stimulate the economy.
So maybe I’m not the biggest fan of holidays anymore—that’s okay. At least they come and go, like everything else in life.
Bender, J. (2016). Topic: U.S. Christmas Season. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.statista.com/topics/991/us-christmas-season/
Categories: Society & Culture