|Humanist Essay for November 2011
"Season of Horror"
As I write, we are well into the season of horror.
Slasher and zombie movies herald the approach of
Halloween the way "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle
on 54th Street" will proclaim the Christmas season in
December. Our local tradition of Dia de los Muertos,
Day of the Dead, artfully bridges pagan and Christian
holidays with a conglomeration of rituals and folkways,
superstition and faith. Thanksgiving has a more
humanistic tone, but if you've ever felt uncomfortable
mumbling grace over the turkey, you know that this
ostensibly secular holiday can also present a challenge.
Perhaps all this Halloween gore is an apt expression of
the dread with which many anticipate the holidays to
Some years back, I was invited to join the editorial team for an Amador Publishers' project, Christmas Blues: Behind the Holiday Mask. The anthology would address the downside of the holiday season in five parts: Tradition, Family, Outsiders, Stuff, and Re-Mythologizing. Of course I related most to the Outsiders section, and felt I knew something about being blue in the midst of the happy bustle of a holiday that did not include me. But, as I told my co-editors Michelle Miller and Harry Willson after reading more than a hundred submissions of poetry and prose, it turned out that my experience only scratched the surface of the agony felt by many Christmas insiders. Their holidays were fraught with family conflicts (not necessarily over religion, but because the ritual forced interaction otherwise avoided), financial stress, and painful memories. All depression and dysfunction was amplified as a result of the forced gaiety of the "season of light." While many approached our subject with humor, a lot of the stories were dark indeed.
I accepted my outsider status long ago. Then, once I let go of the Jewish rituals of my upbringing, I felt fully liberated. I know that my hackles will rise at the crass commercialism and blurring of lines between state and religion that this season brings, and I won't be shy about speaking out if sufficiently riled, but mostly I'll try to ignore it all. When asked how Frank and I will spend the holidays, I'll give my usual answer: We will have no decorations at home, send no cards, give no gifts, attend no services, visit no relatives or have any visit us. The best holiday for me will be when all the world is wrapped up in their various rituals and I am left blessedly alone to think my own thoughts. The response to this might be embarrassment, or the blank stare of one utterly unable to relate, or pity for my misguided soul. But sometimes I detect wistful envy. It sounds kind of good, doesn't it?
Those of you who are obliged to participate in rituals of the season, whether you like them or not, shouldn't let it get you down. Rather than feel oppressed, depressed or discriminated against when that strange cultural tide inundates us, let's make it a season of lightness, as well as a season of light, by floating lightly on the wave and not getting washed under. Once the heavy baggage we bring to the holidays is tossed overboard, we are liberated intellectually and emotionally. We can love and respect our family, friends and neighbors without guilt or defensiveness. Sure, they will still annoy the heck out of us, but that's what makes us humans and not zombies. Dig it.