Welcome to Weeklong Halloween
Opt out! Just OPT OUT PEOPLE. You absolutely can, and if you have the privilege to opt in, choosing to NOT DO IT relieves people who are poor, or single parents, or simply fucking tired of the burden of keeping up. Your child will not die because the leprechaun did not visit or do some...whatever it is this newest thing is supposed to do (yes, I'm a parent, and no, I have no idea what this is), and in fact, will be a better person if we do not orchestrate every fantastical opportunity in their lives. They can do it themselves. For hours. With nothing more than old baking supplies and a cardboard box, if we let them have the time.
Consumerist capitalist bullshit relies on people trying to keep up with the Joneses, and this is nothing more than that. Guess what? That stupid elf doesn't come to our house, because it's paternalistic and also dumb and my daughter at 4 was smart enough to get that when I gave it a hard no in preschool. She still believes in many, many magical things, but she doesn't think we have to buy anything to make sure they exist or give her stuff.
Thanks for talking about this! Our kids are in college, and I remember thinking as a SAHM “Christmas with little kids is all the stuff you do every.single.day then notched up 1000%.” It didn’t help that for a decade my awesome spouse and true partner who really enjoys Xmas worked at UPS, and man, nothing kills the holiday spirit like working at UPS! I see a family on our small street have a need/desire to ramp up every holiday in a Martha Stewart way and the mom especially can’t seem to connect her perfectionism with her exhaustion. I feel sorry for her, and am also glad my kids aren’t the same ages as her kids cuz I’d be having some regular self-talks with myself (and my kids!) about why I don’t go down that path. As an aside, our house now grills hot dogs at the end of our driveway on Halloween during the T or T hours. We still give out candy, but the hot dogs in a bun (with ketchup, mustard & relish available) are a hit! And we bring out our water cooler and small cups and you wouldn’t believe how thirsty kids get. And it’s fun for us, and I feel like it’s a way to create community with our neighbors and strangers alike.
I feel like the holiday spread is also “us”, as a society of consumers, trying to use holidays to make us feel something. If Christmas is magic, then let’s have MORE magic for longer. But, to your point, I think, making it longer and more complex - loaded with STUFF - robs the actual magic and tradition from it. By the time the holiday arrives, you’re spent - the magic is blown.
I have a 5 yo, and we are trying hard to keep the balance. We also have a small house. Part of the holiday joy is the tradition of bringing out the same things (decorations) year over year. If you change them/add to them dramatically each year, you dilute the affection and connection you create with the “old” things. I also tell my kid that the Elf of the Shelf isn’t interested in our family, because he’s a really good kid. 😂
Reminds me of the 1940 “Mother Makes Christmas” picture book by Cornelia Meigs and illustrated by Lois Lenski, which must have been from my mother’s childhood. One woman wrests an amazing feast and a decorated room out of a rough New England storm. And her daughter has seen her destiny. When I recall my mother actually throwing Christmas ham across the kitchen c. 1986 in a sort of black-out stress rage, it all starts to make sense.
Another theory. The shrinking size of households AND the infrequency with which we spend time with extended family has left us with a huge reserve of ‘family time’ easily converted to buying decorations and over decorating more holidays...it’s the slow creep of capitalism replacing actual family interactions.
I wonder if this is a headlong crash of three American ideals into each other: the nuclear family, the Protestant Work Ethic, and FOMO. I say that, because it's - again - a slightly bewildering cultural phenomenon that I feel like I'm looking at from the outside, mostly for cultural reasons.
I grew up with sprawling holidays as a matter of family history - Ramadhan is an entire month. But you're not expected to arrange the celebration in a small unit - the nuclear family with the mother as project manager. The celebration may sprawl the month, but so too does it sprawl among people and places. There always - my entire life - felt like there was a work ethic to planning for, executing and then reviewing Christmas holiday gatherings, whether at school, work, or through hobby organizations. It was a annual event, budgeted for, with committees and commitments, planning and procedures. The FOMO thing may be a new internet-mediated-culture aspect of this, highly targeted to parents. As a couple without children, my hubby and I just never hear about these rapidly changing expectations for parents until months later when we chat with our friends who are parents. And then we're like... wha?
As an aside, I grew up with an intense outside pressure to participate in two holidays that were not a part of my family's cultural tradition: Christmas and Easter. We moved too often for my mom to be successfully pressured to be a PTA parent that brought the cookies and cakes and decorations and planned the parties for free for the school district. (This was the 1970s and 80s, btw.) So, we were able to kinda ignore it until the cultural pressures (for me to join the school choir, to bring Christmas presents for fellow students, to bring something to eat at the during-school-hours party, the endless questions of why my parents didn't "let me" celebrate Christmas) that my parents just gave in and did the minimum to participate in non-secular school festivities and allow me a stress-free winter at school.
They then picked up the secular, consumer aspects of Christmas and transferred it to New Years so my parents could avoid the cultural pressures they were getting to attend office holiday parties full of alcohol. It was easy at the time to just tell people we celebrated New Years with family and presents. I guess others thought it was some other kind of unfamiliar religious practice of ours?? The equivalent of the folks who celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas? (I felt such kinship with my Jewish classmates. I was never pressured to participate in their cultural traditions as if it was mine, but I was invited to join in and be present or be witness a few times. It's so hard to describe the difference, but latter felt joyous, welcoming and full of friendship. The former does not.)
So many thoughts about this one and not enough time to express it!
I have absolutely nothing to base this on except a hunch, but I think we are only a year or two away from white, non-Hispanic Americans (of which I am one) co-opting Dia de los Muertos because “the decorations look fun” and it’s an opportunity for yet another holiday season with decor and food and activities.
As both a Jewish woman AND a retail worker, the Christmas season is exhausting. The retailer I work for famously doesn't put out decorations until after Thanksgiving (but minor signage is starting already) and a friend in a different state tells me he received COMPLAINTS yesterday, (Nov 5, to be exact) because the store isn't decorated. Who has that much time on their hands to actually complain to another human being that there is no Christmas tree or holiday music a few days after Halloween? I was in a home goods store the week of October 15 and they had Christmas music on the soundtrack already, which was weird to me. Good luck to retail workers everywhere!
The pandemic has had the opposite effect on my (admittedly childless, now) family. We were so sad, Christmas 2020, that we couldn't gather. My parents were in their 70s, my young adult kids were far away, and we all thought it would be awful. We did miss each other, but we did not miss all the things we didn't do because we weren't traveling and gathering. Later, my mom and I both admitted that it was actually kind of nice. Restorative. Easy. Last year was the same thanks to the Delta variant surge, a winter storm, and our abundance of caution with my parents. This year, my daughter and her husband will be here, with just my husband and I. We're planning a day of reading, puzzling, playing board games, watching movies, and eating really good food. We're not exchanging gifts, having used the money I'd normally spend on them to fly her husband here from Europe. (They are in visa limbo/hell; long story.) Sometime after the holiday, my husband and I will make the drive to my parents, when the NW weather is cooperating and we've had some days away from his exposure to masses of high school students. It's not the kind of holiday I grew up loving--and which my mom and I spent many years missing, as our extended family died/scattered--but we're really looking forward to it. It feels almost subversive to celebrate like this (bonus), and empowering in this world where we feel increasingly powerless.
Another layer: if your work outside the home is in any way related to consumerism, the dreaded Q4 becomes an entire season of heightened stress and activity, trying to sell to the consumer during this holiday “season” that now starts Oct 1.
As a mom with 4 littles, I decided I didn’t want work to be more stressful during this already hectic season, which is why I shut down my product business.
At this risk of being a little provocative here - This conversation about expanding holiday consumption/ performance always rubs me very much the wrong way. And so today I've been thinking about why and landed on this: We've gotten a lot better at, for example, not saying 'all people' when we mean 'all white people' or 'all upper-middle-class people' I think the reason this conversation rankles is because I think many people (AHP today maybe included) say "all people' when they mean "all Christian people" (or people who grew up in a Christian tradition/culture).
So I think my initial response on Twitter was identifying a smaller piece of this bigger whole thing that bothers me.
I personally know no Jews (who clearly identify as such) who do this over-the-top holiday stuff, even for holidays that they do celebrate like Halloween & Thanksgiving. I would imagine people from some other religious or cultural affiliations maybe feel the same way?
And maybe I'm totally wrong! I would love to hear other thoughts on this.
You have to set boundaries. This is easier when you live in a diverse place, because not every family will be taking part in every single type of celebration. My classes had Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jewish kids and Muslim kids and kids of Korean descent, and they definitely were absent from some of Christian-focused celebrations. Even if you don’t have an excuse based on religious grounds, you have one based on family values and what you feel you can spend. Yes, peer pressure can be stiff, but once you start saying no, and explain why to your kids, they will understand even if they grumble.
Hot take: I actually like the sprawl of Halloween and Christmas because it actually feels LESS stressful to me as a mom to a 3 year old to have everything spread out over the course of months rather than everything jammed into one weekend or weekday.
Oh god, as a kid we had to shove multiple stops to see all the relatives into one day for Halloween and Thanksgiving and two days for Christmas Eve and Christmas and it was so exhausting!!! Now we just spread it out throughout the month. I like having four different days of big Christmas celebrations because that means the days are more relaxed. My dad’s extended family does the Saturday before Christmas, we celebrate Christmas Eve as an immediate family and with our church family, Christmas Day brunch with my mom’s extended family, evening Christmas Day dinner with my in-laws, and the Saturday after Christmas with my mom and my brother’s family. It is so much more relaxed than having to try to make time for all of those people on the 24th and 25th!!! Yes, we have 2 stops on Christmas Day, but they’re only 10 minutes away from each other geographically so it’s not a big deal.
We also take advantage of doing a different activity tradition with a different set of relatives or friends over the course of two months for Fall/Halloween (Sept and Oct) and Christmas (Nov and Dec). So seeing the family and friends becomes the primary thing and the activity the secondary thing that has the bonus of creating a tradition with those people. For example, we spend Halloween with Mom/Grammy by going to Trick-or-Treat on Main Street the Saturday before, then with my in-laws at the local Trail-or-Treat the Sunday before, and then we spend Halloween with my daughter’s best friend and her family on Halloween night by trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. We spend Halloween with another close friend and her family by going to the corn maze together in early October (although I would be more than fine to push that up to September next year so that we don’t have an activity every weekend in October!) We get to celebrate fall with cousins at the local Fall Festival in September.
It only feels like extra pressure because capitalism makes full time workers only have eight days off a month, and we still need time to do domestic stuff and to rest and recover, so time is limited and precious. Also, because social media and general life social pressure makes us feel like we need to keep up with the Joneses.
So yeah, make fun of me for signing up to see Santa on Sunday Nov 20th, but then we don’t have to shove it into another December weekend day with something else.
Also can we unpack the childhood magic thing? I’m just mulling over the relationship between this all right now. Childhood is so decidedly not magic what with school shootings and the number of kids affected by the opioid epidemic not to mention the pandemic and climate change and, and ….
I work in adolescent mental health and so have a front row seat to the crisis. Is it like “we will focus on bunnies and leprechauns and Santa because the rest is impossible to fix”?
I've been reading the fascinating and of-its-time book Last and First Men by Stapledon (1930). One of the interesting ideas in the book is that in America what is worshipped more than anything else is 'movement' - the need to be constantly producing and consuming and above all *moving*. This leads in his fantasy to a a future where everyone has an 'aeroplane', taking in flocks to the sky on holidays to literally worship motion, and doing so even when the consumption of fuel dooms them to freeze and starve. Pretty apt metaphor imo.
Both increasing secularism and increasing Evangelical co-option makes this fascinating to me.
Like Advent is actually a fairly significant part of certain Christian traditions. During my childhood some people got Santa Advent Calendars, but Jesus ones where the doors opened to reveal little bit of manger scene or a little bit of a manger scene and a Bible verse leading up to Christmas were common.
And while, I 100% do not care about your beer Advent calendar. I do find it strange that people don’t know it’s actually Christian in origin and think it’s appropriate for public schools, government offices and secular workplaces. (And if you work in retail or something where a countdown to Christmas is important, I recommend just calling whatever prizes you are using to make it through the hellscape that is December “a countdown to Christmas”)
Lots of people celebrate secular Christmas, and that is fine. But when people start insisting to people who did not grow up marinating in Christian culture that it’s not a religious holiday so can totally take over public spaces that is weird.
Especially, when we have actual Christian Nationalists trying to run things. And part of that is trying to enforce mandatory Christian culture. So rather than transferring the bit of public land that a historic WWI memorial Peace Cross sits on to the VFW to keep up, we have the Supreme Court blathering about the cross not being a religious symbol so it’s totally cool on public land.
I do not care at all if you have decided Christianity is nonsense, but wear the cross a family member gave you. Or have an icon on display because it has meaning to you. Christians really can’t complain about appropriation.