Since I attained adolescence I have dreaded the obligatory gatherings that occasion American's two "family" holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Political conventions, protest marches, and Thanksgiving Day parades excepted, never have so many gone to such great trouble and expense to bore or irritate so many others as at the great, temporary migrations that mark Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Families are inherently dysfunctional because, unlike friendships and employment relationships, they aren't voluntary associations. I do not understand why a group of individuals who happen to share some genes should feel compelled to foregather once or twice a year. Those who want to give thanks should give thanks; those who want to observe the birth of Christ should observe it. But what does any of that have to do with frogmarching me to the groaning board because, by blood or marriage, I happen to belong to some familial constellation of incompatible personalities?
Many of us go away to college to escape the banality of family life. Why do so many of those same escapees seek to resurrect that banality once or twice a year? Is it an attempt to assuage the guilt of not liking one's family as much as one's friends? Or is it just a "female thing"?
My mother, who lives alone at the age of 89, is bereft when she spends a holiday without a visit from a child or grandchild. When I am 89, I will be bereft if I am besieged by children or grandchildren who feel duty-bound to join me in observing a "family" holiday. I love them all, but I want to see them only if they want to see me, and then only when it's warm and sunny and we can go to parks and take long walks and enjoy cool drinks on a shady porch.
No lengthy, distracting preparations; no football games on TV; no dancing politely around taboo subjects; no retelling of tales that were stale two decades ago; no laborious cleanup; no company -- that's my idea of Thanksgiving and Christmas.