Anyplace but Home for the Holidays

Our Elites tell us that we should be grateful that COVID has broken our imposed familial bonds at the holidays. But our Faith reminds of how important being together with family is.

Perry Como’s declaration that “there’s no place like home for the holidays” is so…1950s!

At least that’s what that arbiter of modernity and progressivism, The New York Times, assures us. Alyson Krueger examines the phenomenon of “Not Home for the Holidays,”  applauding how today’s Americans are “liberated by the loss of tradition over the last two years.”

As Krueger tells it, Christmas 2020—when many people did not visit relatives because of the pandemic—freed people from seasonal rituals to gather together as families in one place. By Christmas 2021, what fear and quarantines were responsible for a year earlier was now being embraced as freedom and the contemporary talisman of choice.

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The people she interviews offer various reasons for their break with tradition. A “content creator” and her husband from Idaho decided not to drive to her in-laws in Utah because it was a long hassle and “our thoughts on religion and politics and the way we should treat each other and ethics is completely different.” A Los Angeles musician said going to her New York parents was a “bummer” because they no longer put up a Christmas tree. Others note costs—from high-season flights to gifts—they can now save.  

One common denominator of the new trendies is their “I” fixation: My in-laws’ dinner table doesn’t embrace the politics I endorse. My parents’ lack of a Christmas tree doesn’t take into account that “I need to be doing things that make me happy.” By the way, that means a “meaningful” retreat in the mountains or live music on a beach in Puerto Rico.

When Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone a generation ago, he deemed the phenomenon symptomatic of a social pathology. Twenty-one years later, that pathology is practically being celebrated.

There are many factors responsible for this shift. The quasi-Gnostic shift from real reality to “virtual” reality is part of it: several of Krueger’s interviewees claim that playing a game remotely suffices for their family contact. Emotivism is another: relationships and even love are reduced primarily to feelings and, since feelings are largely subjective, they almost invariably refocus the subject on his ego—what do I get from this? 

The overwhelming politicization of life—“the personal is political”—has also been chipping away at more basic bonds. There is something sick when political affiliation trumps the glue of kinship bonds at the Thanksgiving or Christmas table. Are you really a Democrat or Republican first and a son or daughter second?

For me, however, the most worrisome takeaway from this article was the rather uncontested claim that “the pandemic also turned friends into family.” While COVID-19 in some cases created social bonds where there were none before—some folks (though I doubt many) might even have gotten to know the name of their next-door neighbor—it is a far greater leap to conclude that “what the pandemic taught me is that family doesn’t have to represent those that are blood related. Family is made of those people who support you and love you.”

Forget about filial love and intergenerational bonds. Today’s man or woman is typically an isolated monad, who conceives of all his relationships as being rooted in mere consent (and often utilitarian), bound by no necessary ties other than what Msgr. Paul Scalia aptly called being “orphaned in the present.” With the flight from fertility and parenthood, the primal awareness of the family bond is increasingly attenuated. And, let’s not leave Roe out of the picture: if my existence is nothing more than my mother’s choice, then why should a child’s maternal relationship be reciprocated as anything else than an appealing choice in the moment?

The flight from fertility, coupled with the increased social conditioning that the biological foundation of family is an optional and dispensable extra is also necessarily tied up with advocacy of lifestyle libertinism that otherwise, in many instances, would be simply sterile. Taking kith and kinship as biologically rooted challenges the ethic of “let a thousand lifestyles bloom.”  

Neither the Judeo-Christian ethic nor most actual lived human experience ever considered the Fourth Commandment as expiring at the age of majority. The idea of “honoring your father and your mother” was grounded in a normative relationship that measured other human relationships, not one measured by them.  

It is a good thing that the Church interpolates the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday between Christmas and January 1. The question is whether even growing numbers of Catholics understand the First Reading’s injunctions about “honoring his father” and “revering his mother.”  

It’s equally a question whether Americans today understand what their native poet Robert Frost got at when he defined: “home is the place where…they have to take you in.” 

Or perhaps Frost was already anticipating our times in the interjection in the above line: “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

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