The good and evil of holidays


"Tom Turkey" by Olin Gilbert

The holidays are right here, officially starting tomorrow. They bring much good, but they also bring much evil.  We need to see both parts.

I am Christian so I will be celebrating Christmas, but Jews will be celebrating Hanukah and Muslims will be celebrating Milad un Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet. All three of these holidays include gathering of friends and family and communities and the sharing of gifts. In this dark and chilly time of year, it is interesting that all three holidays are celebrated with lights, a remedy for Seasonal Affective Disorder before psychologists became secular priests and a truth in the common experience of humanity, the shared need for light in the darkness.

That is the good part and I love all of it. However, I also see the pain that holidays cause.

There seems to be a common nostalgia for a time that never existed. It’s tempting to blame Norman Rockwell or a longing for the 1950s but I don’t think that either is correct or fair. The pain is caused by the disparity between the ideals that we are sold, and that we willingly buy, and the reality that we live.

It would be wonderful to come downstairs to a Christmas tree surrounded by presents, but 13.5% of American families (2 adults and 2 kids) live below the poverty line of $24,250. Parents may be simply unable to afford the Christmas that the whole family wants.

It would be better for everyone if every child lived with two parents but 34% of children live in single-parent families,  Those single parents have all of my respect for what they are doing, by the way.  In contrast, in 1950, the figure was 9% in 1960, when 73% of American children lived in homes with two parents in their first marriage. The link is worth checking just for the Christmas picture, by the way.

The holidays should be a happy time, but 18.5% of American adults experience mental illness in a given year, and that illness is serious enough to interfere with major life activities for 4.2% of American adults. It’s not just the adults, either. The estimates are 13% of children aged 8 to 15 and 21.4% for children aged 13 to 18. There is probably reciprocal causality among at least some of these illnesses and the unmet hopes and dreams described above.

Please understand that I don’t hate the holiday season but I see how it moves many persons to comparisons that magnify the typical flaws and disappointments of life, in some cases exposing the real injustices of poverty, illness, and broken relationships. All of that leads to a lot of pain that is acted upon and acted out in dark and ugly ways that show persons of faith to be the broken humans that we all are.

The holidays are here so please, seek the light and the warmth. Gather the family into which you are born and the family that you make for yourself. Take the time off to rest. Be who and what you are and let no advertiser define you or paint your dreams.  Be gentle with yourself and others. Cry if you feel the need, or scream your curses into the wind. Even better, take your agony and rage to God, say what you need to say, and then, when you are exhausted, take a bit of time to listen. You might hear God whispering God’s agreement with you.

Shalom.
Brendan

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