Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Holidays Are Wonderful ... Maybe

As we leave Thanksgiving behind and head into the December holidays, I find myself already tired of all the sickeningly sweet, traditional, wonderful holiday advertising and the wholesale merchandising of that perfect unit: THE FAMILY.

The holidays are all about the big fictional families of yore -- Dad, Mom, Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Buddy and Aunt Bea, five adorable children, the dog, the cat, the cute hamsters running in their little cages. Ugh.

I'm a single mom with an only child. I don't rate. No Dad here, yes a Mom, no Grandpa, no Grandma, some aunts and uncles locally it's true, but they're all happy enough to see us only now and then, which I'm fine with and one only child, not five, no dog, no cat, no hamsters which are NOT, never have been, never will be, cute.

The "home for the holidays" schmaltzy advertising reads like this for me, "You're not okay. You're not Mrs. Typical American Mom, the happy martyr at the head of the typical American family, so you don't count." Of course, you know the statistics, that the typical American family is a small sliver of our society now. Yet they still occupy an overly-influential bullying position in our media.

Ironically, I'm only just done hearing my friends bitching and moaning about their annoying families driving them nuts at Thanksgiving, and now they gird their psychological loins for the next bunch of holidays. So what gives? Can we have a little reality check here on how happy all these happy families are exactly?

I'm a little secretly thankful I don't have parents expecting me to drive north or fly south or do anything on the holidays. I loved my parents and sure miss them now that they've passed away, but I don't miss the emotional gymnastics required on holidays, to be twisted into knots to fufill someone's idea of family, spending time with people you really don't want to see necessarily, missing time with your friends.

The other night at dinner, some friends and I were talking about the "Family You Create" or "FYC" and why no one can acknowledge this social network. As we discussed plans for Christmas, we realized some of us would be flying back to see families of origin in faraway places and we'd miss our "Family You Create" pals. There's no place like home for the holidays with your FRIENDS, it seemed to us. But there's no place in the American psyche for a non-traditional family and non-traditional ways of celebrating the holidays.

Just having fun with your friends? This is sacrilege in the holiday season. You can't actually hang out with the people who love and understand you (your friends), but rather need to jam yourself into a Christmas Card scene of painted-on smiles and happy family stereotypes, whether the red and green outfits fit or not. Some years, they do. Many years, they don't.

So go easy on yourself and come up with a holiday plan that actually celebrates the people you love, the things you love to do and the family you've assembled out of friendship, care and consideration. Raise your glass and enjoy some holiday cheer over the fact that the even the icon of happy family holidays herself, Martha Stewart, spent last Christmas in jail.