4 (Bad) Reasons You Spend Holidays With Family
There are two kinds of holidays in the world: awesome day-off holidays like Labor Day, on which nothing is accomplished and no one gives two shits as to why because we have beers and a tiny pool and cocktail wieners. And then family holidays, on which we gather en masse with those whose genetic make-up is frightfully close to our own to gorge at the trough of gravy and green bean casserole as though we were sacrificing dignity to an insatiable Aztec god to appease its fiery wrath for another year.
Now, before we go further, I bet any number of you have super fun family holidays. In fact, I bet you hang out with your family in between holidays. You have no business here, mama's boy. This is all about those of us who only ever see the Family, in that capital F sense that includes cousin Jesseby with his smelly fingers and Great-Aunt Lucille who carries enough pharmaceuticals in her luggage to give a heart attack to a race horse, for Thanksgiving/Christmas and maybe a summer family reunion/4th of July-type thing, if someone is really pushing for family togetherness.
If family gatherings are so awkward and miserable for a large number of people -- and if the jokes on Twitter every major holiday are any indication, they are -- then why do we do it? I have some ideas borne from my own awkward familial interactions. Think of Everybody Loves Raymond, only if no one was funny and everyone was a monster. So, Everybody Loves Raymond.
Outside of your immediate family, the people you are related to barely qualify as acquaintances in both a genetic and a general interest sort of way. Second cousins? Great-uncles? Who the fuck are these people? Them and a sasquatch will get you a sequel to Willow Creek. Was that even a joke? It is to your second cousin.
At some point, you have to prune your family tree and accept that it's too big and that the extras are just a nuisance, and that's if you're being kind. Trace your roots far enough and you're probably related to half the country in some watered-down, unimportant way, so the bonds of "blood" don't necessarily mean a lot beyond the potential to get a new kidney should you ever damage yours in an unlicensed back-alley boxing match.
We have a routine of inviting family for the holidays that has kept us going as a species for generations now. Thanksgiving is about family because something something 25-pound turkey something pilgrims. You're not going to eat that much food on your own, and you're not going to invite any First Nations people over; that would be weird. Better invite your cousin. Cousin, eat this fuckin' log of cranberry: no one else wants it, and I don't know why I bought it. And he will, too, the son of a bitch, with his fingers. Same ones he grubbied across the Triscuits and assorted cheeses you put out before dinner because you figure that's what people do.
When you're a kid it's kind of fun to have the family over, and it grows increasingly less fun as you age until the day the torch gets passed to you to have a family dinner, and then, for some ungodly reason, you do it. You want to see what it's like, and what it's like is waking up at 6 a.m. to stuff a goddamn turkey and bake sweet potatoes and devil eggs for the next 8 hours so that 15 people can descend on your home like a swarm of gluttonous vultures, spend 30 minutes tearing everything apart, another hour digesting and farting, and then leave you with the mess to clean up. And you did it because your parents did it. Know what else your parents did? Had sex with each other. Not all their ideas are things you want to try out.
That's the dreadful problem with the majority of routines we get into: we keep doing them without question because it's just what we do. That's how you end up in dystopian futures in which humanity is long dead but our robotic servants are still at war with each other. Is that what you want? That's what every Thanksgiving is pushing us toward -- annihilation on a global scale. Fuckin' turkeys.
Worse than the routine family holiday is the obligation holiday, which tends to house-hop like a slippery floozy slinking from cot to cot in the back room of a hillbilly barbecue joint. The upside is that next year it will be someone else's obligation, but it spreads around like a never-ending loan that's owed to the mob, and someone better pay up, or else. Last year your aunt put on such a wonderful spread, and the shitty cranberries weren't even from a can, and the gravy was made from scratch, and the wine wasn't in one of those Capri Sun foil bags, and it was pretty good. Now it's your turn.
You'll have that on your shoulders the entire time you're preparing for this cursed holiday: how good it was last time, and how you're inevitably going to fail at something. Martha Stewart could be pinch-cooking for you and someone will still complain about how the stuffing is too dry or not dry enough and your green bean casserole is too green or not beany enough. And you'll do it because you can't break the chain. Someone else must do it, and that's why everyone is bitching at you, because they want you to be the one who finally puts a bullet in this tradition so none of them have to do it ever again, but no one wants to be the one who ruins it. It must be someone else. No one can be The Killer of the Holiday.
This same mental game exists in many workplaces around the world where people gather in break rooms and talk about burning the building down, but of course no one does it for real, even though they all hope the other guy will actually do it. We all want to see the world burn, we just don't want to light the match.
Minimal Effort for Maximum Gain
For the truly deplorable families out there, the holiday meal is actually a godsend. It's a single day that can make you look like a Roman god powered by the mystical dong of Bobby Flay himself in the eyes of the people who spend 365 days a year stomping your self-worth into a mudhole that was once your soul.
If that sounds grim, we can scale it back and just say it's also a day when you can rise to the top and look your best, and all you need to invest is dining space and the ability to properly bake. All things being equal, that's a very small price to pay to make your family think you're not incompetent, because odds are, even if you designed the space station for NASA, someone in your family thinks you're a shiftless boob who can't get anything done properly.
On the flip side of things, if you're not actively putting on the meal, just attending, you get yourself a free dinner and most of a year's worth of catching up and putting in the effort to appear like you're interested in everyone's goings-on. This one day is like winning the family lottery and amounts to numerous single visits that would otherwise take place on random days of the year. Because you took the time and effort to travel, or help cook, or even just sit in an uncomfortable chair and entertain your incontinent grandpa, you're scoring big-time points, and that's not bad.
Why do you put up with this? Spite. Family and spite hold hands like the creepy twin girls from The Shining. You will not dare give your smug cousin Myrtle the satisfaction of holding it over your head that you didn't do this thing, not in this lifetime.
Is it sad and kind of insane that anyone would endure a day of prison-style labor in a kitchen and then ungrateful critiques from distant relatives purely out of spite? Of course it is, but that's what the holidays are about for some of us. And if you're wondering why, the answer is oddly simple -- who are the people in your family? Even those of you who have decent familial relationships: start climbing that family tree of yours and see how far removed from yourself, your siblings, your parents you have to get before you hit someone in the family you fucking hate. The family drunk, the perennial fuck-up, the criminal, the drug addict, the sex offender, the serial killer no one talks about. There's someone, right? There always is. And they're family; you can never change that.
I once heard someone say that friends are the family you get to choose. Think about how much time you spend with friends versus family, especially when you're young. You're forced to have a relationship with family for no other reason than biology. When you're old enough to choose who to spend time with, how much time do you really want to spend with your relatives? And if you do spend time with them, how much of that is ingrained and habitual because you're just used to them? You've known them for so long you hang out with them because you feel like you need to?
This is where spite stands strong. You don't have to like these people, and deep down you know it, but our world is really built around a family structure. We're not like animals who have young, train them in the ways of killing prey, and then just let them go. God, what a wonderful world that would be. No, we stay together 'til death. And, man, is that death a long time coming. Part of us will always resent that. Even if your mom is the sweetest lady ever, someone in your family is a turd juggler and you fucking hate him, but he's always there because your aunt loves her dumbass son who couldn't hold a job with a futuristic hydraulic gripping machine and a gravity manipulation chamber.
I wonder sometimes what it might be like to be in one of those Full House-type families where everyone gets along and it's just bizarre. It's like imagining yourself as a fish -- there's no frame of reference at all. And, sadly, it seems legitimately rare. I have no doubt some of you can tell me all about how wonderful your family gatherings are, but like I said, I know you have at least one asshat relative you wish didn't attend. Others may have no family left at all and long for what I'm here griping about. But damn if a lot of us don't fall into this infuriating category of having family and just not wanting to have them except in very small, controlled doses.
For more on holiday jubilees, check out 6 Insane Holidays You'll Wish You Celebrated. And then check out How We'll Be Celebrating The Holidays In 500 Years.