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Jay Michaelson

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Why the Holidays Suck... And What We Can Do About It

Posted: 12/24/10 05:04 PM ET

It's a well-known urban legend that suicide rates spike during the holiday season. Though this myth turns out to be false, there has always been a mean-spiritedness at the heart of the good-spiritedness of Christmas, one in abundant supply in -- of all places -- the holiday episode of "Glee."

The Christmas season is one of a particular myth: a story of nuclear families huddled around the fireplace, all celebrating the same holiday in good cheer, and with good will toward all people. Yet this particular myth pretends to be universal. Everyone's supposed to have the same families around them, the same religious beliefs, and the same good things happen to them, which we all agree upon.

But this is hogwash. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans live in nuclear family households, and precisely what makes America great is that we are different from one another -- that we are not all celebrating the same holiday and the same values. So why do we suddenly feign uniformity around the holiday season?

Take the holiday episode of "Glee." Ordinarily, the television hit celebrates the misfit, the outcast and the different. But on the holiday episode, the differently-abled character Artie gets to walk, the Jewish characters celebrate Christmas (Hanukkah doesn't exist at all), and the now-single Will Schuester is kept company on Christmas Eve not only by the Glee Club but by his nemesis, Sue Sylvester, who had earlier played the role of the Grinch who stole Christmas (complete with green makeup) but who subsequently had a change of heart.

What a disappointment! For two seasons, we've been invited to see Artie's being in a wheelchair not as a curse, but as part of what makes him special and unique. That's suddenly out the window. And Mr. Schue, who might be congratulated for finally dumping his possessive and possibly psychotic ex-wife, is instead pitied and magically rescued from that Worst of All Fates, aloneness. Nice message to single folks.

Now, I admit that my own unease with the holiday season is because I am Jewish, and as South Park taught us, "it's hard to be a Jew on Christmas." But I'm not complaining here about the religious aspects of the holiday, or even the consumerist ones. And, as I wrote here last year, I've learned to like a lot about the Christmas holiday, thanks to its themes of "the darkening of our days, the longed-for return of light and the earth-based symbolism of the solstice."

What I'm saying is, it would be nice to remember is that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a life-partner, let alone a nuclear family, and that some people are really quite okay with that. Just like some people are okay with not having a Christmas tree, or being in a wheelchair, or whatever.

To me, a real Christmas spirit of lovingkindness and warmth would celebrate diversity, rather than bury it. The myths we supposedly all hold on common are actually pretty exclusionary -- precisely because they insist that we all hold them in common. How nice it would be if we'd celebrate difference, not hide it, or pity it, or bury it under layers of fake snow and tinsel.

 
 
 

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