Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Rules of Holiday Engagement

Now that we have entered the last quarter of 2021, some of you are about to assume the role of insufferable self-righteous assholes, so I am going to call you out on it right now. I don't really care to engage in debates over secular coffee cups or Christmas being ruined by someone wishing you a "Happy Holidays". I am not concerned about the images of ghosts and goblins or sugar skulls, nor am I willing to celebrate Holy-ween in your church's parking lot. We are not going to argue about what is traditional or not about Thanksgiving, so if my Kid comes home with a homemade Pilgrim hat, I am just going to deal. We are not doing the Culture War Hunger Games this year.

I've got plenty of battles I am willing to fight, but here are some ground rules. We will not be intentionally mis-gendering any one. We will not discuss tattoos or piercings at the dinner table. It is none of your business when someone is going to settle down or if they ever will. Ditto for having children. We're not going to be passive aggressive and make disparaging comments about discipline until them and their bad ass kids are gone. We will not discuss weight loss or your Peloton workouts. We are not going to entertain your lectures on vegan living and no one is going to eat that tofurkey (so wrap it up and take it with you). Yes, we will be considerate of food allergies and won't force your children into unwanted hugs or kisses by relatives they don't know. We will avoid topics that will likely result in unnecessary drama, so don't start none, won't be none.

We are not watching that Dave Chappelle special

I don't care if you bleed burgundy and gold, you will refer to the Washington Football Team (WFT) as the Washington Football Team (WFT) until such time as they settle on a real name. Baseball season will be over soon, so you've had enough time to get used to the fact that the MLB team in Cleveland is called the Guardians now, so stop whining snowflake. If you say anything negative about any female athlete, so help me you are not getting a to-go plate.

And now we get to my most controversial pronouncement: we are not blaming anything on the gays. I've already said what I said about intentional mis-gendering and not watching Dave Chappelle, so this should not be surprising, but it needs to be stated, emphatically and without a stutter. Leave all of that intolerance back in 1989.

Let's stop and linger on that edict in particular because of all the culture war clashes that are raging unresolved for the moment, this is the one topic that is a bona fide dead horse. Stop thrashing that carcass. Cease and desist from blaming all of the world's problems on people who just want the freedom to exist and to love whom they choose. For in spite of the lip service we pay to not caring about what people do in their personal lives, we very much care and that inconsistency has real consequences. 

This isn't about whether you approve of someone's 'alternative' lifestyle or if you truly care about the eternal destination of their souls. There is some child who will hear your disparaging tirades on sissies and dykes, and they will spend considerable time tormented by descriptions of their feelings as unnatural and unholy. That child will look in the mirror and question whether God loves everybody, and that could result in all kinds of self-destructive choices. And no, it isn't persecution or censorship because you are entitled to your opinions, but you are not entitled to express them in such a manner as to intentionally cause harm to others in mixed company. 

It starts at Halloween at costume selection time. Things have changed a lot since I was growing up, but those flammable plastic hazmat suit costumes were probably the origin of a lot of trauma. You want to be a superhero you say? Well, you had five options: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, the Hulk, or Wonder Woman. Dawuzzit. I don't recall if Robin was a choice, but I can only imagine the ribbing some poor kid would have gotten for choosing the Boy Wonder. We won't even address the obvious issues of being a non-white kid dressed in a two-dimensional reproduction of comic book characters with peach "flesh-toned" skin. And what if you wanted to be something else, like a cowboy or a motorcycle cop (just a reminder that I grew up in the 70s and 80s):

We've come a long way, but a lot of folks are having to adjust to the notion of gender as a construct. Kids have a lot of choices and the urge to guide them towards something gender-conforming is strong.  Fight it. That was the world as we knew it, when the fine seeds of intolerance that have become unwieldy weeds were sown. There are unisex costumes, and then there is everything else, some of which is hella problematic. But please, within reason, just let your kids be kids. 

Thanksgiving is the Wrestlemania of family gatherings. Everybody comes, knives out, and it is a grand battle royale until the last person standing is Big Mama cleaning up the kitchen. Every topic is fair game, even though that shouldn't be, and every conceivable bias is exposed. So just nip it at the bud upon entry and declare that the only shit talking is taking place after dinner over Spades. Don't allow any brown liquor dranking before dinner and confiscate all Hennessy at the door. Don't even go around the room to ask folks why they are thankful, just appoint someone to say the blessing over the food and get on with the meal. Protect every cousin in the crosshairs of the family drunk(s) at all costs. 

Because feelings can get hurt. Faces will have permanent cracks. Some folks may never recover from the implications that can follow from an inappropriate question or observation. I have never forgotten being asked about my romantic proclivities because I had never come to a family function with a significant other. Mind you, I was only 18 years old; thankfully, my Grandmother swooped in and shut down any additional questions that might have escalated my embarrassment. Years later, there were the uncomfortable questions about when I would start a family or if I planned to have another child. None of this is light-hearted banter, especially among people that you only see once a year.

So what then, if someone does show up as part of a same-gender loving couple? Or someone notes the absence of a particular cousin who might be living his/her truth? That's why we have Aunties--compliment the wrong one and start an argument over who brought the better side dish or dessert. As this is an perennial debate (and as such, acceptable dinner conversation), the goal from that point on will be to set the stage for the Christmas rematch. Advise new dinner guests not to show any preferences, because they will need vocal allies. And it is an undisputable fact that enthusiasm for an Auntie's mac and cheese and another Auntie's sweet potato pie means that they are going to defend you, no matter what.

Now, this is the point where we need to acknowledge that there are other holiday celebrations that take place during this last quarter of the year, namely Diwali (November 4) and Hanukkah (November 28-December 6). That could mean additional family gatherings for some blended couples, or alternative get-togethers in lieu of Christmas. Since I have never formally celebrated either, I cannot offer definitive statements about the dynamics of non-Christian gatherings; I am addressing un-Christian behavior here.  If you are a guest at one of these dinners, you don't need advanced familiarity with every custom, just be polite (but know that Google is free). If you extended the invitation to an outsider, you know your folks, so prepare your guest accordingly. 

Formally, the Christmas season begins just as the dessert gets served at Thanksgiving dinner. Half of the folks pack their to-go plates and head out to the mall, while those who remain begin to help the host Auntie put up the Christmas decorations. This is right about the time that your racist Uncle, who has been quiet for most of the gathering, will begin to reminisce about the good old days. The inherent danger in allowing this tirade is that he won't stop at just being racist or sexist, but he will go full on Trumpet to rail against everything. Your job, and you have no choice but to accept it, is to jump in the ring and spar until his itis sets in or Big Mama makes him take out the trash. The longest ten minutes of your life...

However, it is a necessary fight because this is why your parents mortgaged their home for your college education. This is why Big Mama brags about you to all of her friends. You're smart. This dude has been the family bully all of your life, and the shit that comes out of his mouth has traumatized folks for decades. He won't change nor will he listen, but the point is not to convert him. It is to send the message to the younger generation that this is not who we are and that his views are not universally held. That is, of course unless your entire family agrees with him...then you just need to pack up your to-go plate and bounce in that first wave of post-meal departures.

If you do stay, you already know the first complaint out of his mouth will be how Christmas just isn't the same as it was when he was growing up. Yeah, because you are no longer a naïve child who believes that some old guy moonlighting at the mall is the real Santa Claus or that your parents would allow a complete stranger in their home to leave you toys. But we're not here to spoil the magic for anyone too young to be cynical or tech savvy, so we'll let that one slide. What he is really lamenting is how his Boomer celebrations of the past never had to be inclusive or accommodating of other people's truths. His racist uncle or grandfather said whatever terrible things he wanted and no one would challenge him. It was better then because everybody knew their place, from the women to the hired help to the children to the pets--all of whom were terrified of him. Nowadays, nobody is scared of Uncle Tink Tink...

So when he starts in, ask him if the holidays are no longer the same because he's no longer welcome to pop up at his Baby Mama's house until the restraining order gets lifted? Or when was the last time he invited his mixed-raced grandchildren to dinner? Trust, Big Mama will have the trash bagged up in the kitchen waiting for him. And then he'll disappear to the basement for Spades. 

I was going to address various individual micro-aggressions in this paragraph, but rethought that in favor of issuing a blanket "Do no harm" in December. Err on the side of caution: don't send religious cards to non-Christians; don't send the dreaded Christmas morning group text; and don't get knee-jerk indignant over the design of your disposable coffee cup. Yes, times have changed and people are more sensitive now, but what does that make you if you are complaining that you actually have to be mindful about your holiday expressions? I thought the point was to wish the other person well... 

Do no harm when you see the retro toys and are tempted to buy your goddaughter a Holly Hobbie oven because you had one or a Rock'em Sock'em for your nephew. Your memories are cool and your intentions are honorable, but inquire with the parents to make sure that those kinds of gender-specific toys are appropriate first. Call, exchange pleasantries, and then ask if this is something they could use. 

Do no harm because the rules for the family Christmas dinner are pretty much the same as the Thanksgiving guidelines. The difference is that there may be several smaller get-togethers instead of one, so you might have to keep your game face beat for multiple outings. Get you some dressy stretchy pants and you can make it all the way through Kwanzaa and New Year's Eve! (We'll address Christmas and Kwanzaa etiquette at another time.)

Thankfully, almost everything ends at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve! I don't know anyone who goes out to anyplace other than church, so if we make it to December 31, that is where I plan to be (or at home watching it online because of the 'rona). I would offer guidance on how to politely decline some well-meaning person's invitation to the post-church meal that Big Mama had smelling up the house all day. But I will keep this simple and warn you in advance that it will involve pork, so take along your blood pressure pills and check your sugar. Depending on the neighborhood, you might want to linger in the church until the shooting stops...

And dassit! You may have read through this piece and wondered if it is even worth the effort to celebrate any holidays with all of these new rules and changes, and the answer is an emphatic DUH! So you will have to make adjustments because times have changed. It happens, just like the jheri curl went out of style and all of these kids are grown, we've got to keep up and keep going.  No, your sister doesn't cook the greens with fatback the way Big Mama did, but cooking with smoked turkey is healthier. You want to be around to complain next year, right? Well then get another helping and maybe add some string beans to that plate instead of some more carbs. See you soon!

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