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December 1, 2008
A Liberal’s Guide to
Surviving the Holidays
It’s the time of year when commercials convince us that holidays are a
cozy, nostalgic time – an opportunity to have harmonious family
gatherings and melt hearts with the perfect gift, when in reality we’re
tearing our hair out. The intrinsic stress of holiday gift-giving and
party-hosting is enough. Add to that the tensions of clashing politics
at the dinner table and you’ve got a perfect storm for a miserable
Certainly conservatives have troubles during the holidays, too. But, as
a liberal, I can only discuss our unique holiday challenges. We are
feminists forced to wash dishes while the men recline on couches
watching football, anti-consumerists venturing into those sprawling
Meccas of consumerism known as shopping malls, vegetarians who sit down
to tables full of meat while relatives tell the same jokes about our
meatless plates every year – and Obama voters whose families believe
that there might not be a Christmas next year because our
communist, atheist dictatorship will outlaw it. (In case any family
members are reading, not all of these complaints are true of
Sure, there are things liberals can do to change the dynamic – refuse to
do dishes, shop online, bring a Tofurkey to dinner. But it’s not always
that easy, at least for me.
Deep down, there’s a part of me that likes the tradition of the
holidays. I have fond memories of Black Friday battles in war-torn
department stores. I even love the frustrated, sleep-deprived crowds
(except, of course, when those crowds become murderous, like they did at
a Long Island Wal-Mart this past Friday by stomping an employee to
death). I tear up at cheesy holiday songs and, yes, holiday commercials.
I like getting and giving stuff – even unnecessary, non-eco-friendly
stuff. As I mentioned in my column last week, a whiff of turkey brings
warm memories, even though for moral reasons I haven’t eaten it in
years. I even have some nostalgia for political battles over
Thanksgiving dinner, during which my uncles get red-faced and my aunts
adopt soothing voices to get them to settle down. In the end, we’d
usually wind up laughing and toasting one another, a family again.
So, where’s the middle ground? How do tradition-living progressives find
peace during the holidays without compromising their beliefs or starting
a fight? One possible route is for liberals with families of their own
to start new traditions. Maybe their children, then, will associate the
smell of Tofurkey with pleasant memories and get all fuzzy at the
thought of making homemade gifts rather than navigating packed malls.
However, if like me you are unmarried and childless (which,
additionally, brings many questions during the holidays of when exactly
you will marry and give birth), the answer lies in compromise, and a bit
For dishwashing feminists, try coaxing everyone into a game of
rock-paper-scissors to see who will be in charge of cleanup. No
gender-role dissertation necessary (though you can slip in a sentence or
two about women enjoying football, too). For vegetarians, bring your own
dishes that aren’t obviously vegetarian – for example, a nut loaf or a
broccoli casserole, as opposed to an obvious meat analogue like soy
turkey. Traditional (read: stubborn) relatives are more likely to eat it
if it doesn’t have soy, and you’ll have the comfort of knowing that your
dish doesn’t have any non-vegetarian secret ingredients. When the
inevitable “but vegetables were once living, and you eat those!” jokes
arrive, have some snappy one-liners prepared that’ll get the table
laughing with instead of at you.
For anti-consumerists who enjoy the frantic holiday atmosphere, spend
some time at the mall window-shopping and enjoying the cheesy music, the
smiling children waiting to see Santa and the larger-than-life
decorations, but make handmade gifts at home or buy them at secondhand
shops, which are eco-friendly and economically smart. And secondhand
doesn’t have to mean lower-quality – check around for local used
bookstores and vintage clothing stores that sell the good stuff for half
And as for those dinner-table political clashes – especially when you’re
the odd-man out – stand your ground but stay calm. Explain your reasons
for believing what you do, and if the discussion gets out of hand, raise
your glass and toast to agreeing to disagree. This all may be overly
simplistic advice given the range of families with which we are made to
spend the holidays, but I’m of the mind that it just might work. Either
that, or those commercials have done their job in making me believe that
holiday harmony is possible after all.
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