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My Holiday Plea: Stop Complaining About the Holidays

Last weekend, I was sitting in a Starbucks near my apartment in Washington, D.C., when two women sat down next to me and began drinking hot cups of something or another. Since it was less than a week before Thanksgiving, this particular Starbucks had already switched over to their holiday-themed red cups (at least for non-iced drinks). Well, wouldn’t you know what came next: One woman began decrying the commercialization of the holiday season. The other asked why she had to drink out of themed cups “so early in the year.” (Presumably this question was rhetorical, although I did feel like saying, “Because you chose to come to Starbucks.”) The conversation went on like this for some time, with the first woman eventually saying that she had grown to hate the holiday season so much that she and her siblings have initiated a “no gift” rule. The second woman seemed awed by the brilliance of this idea, and nodded along to the anti-holiday rant. I happen to enjoy the red Starbucks cups, but even if I didn’t, my main concern was the two people blathering on, preventing me from drinking my tea and doing my crossword puzzle in peace.

My other emotion during this ordeal (here I am trying to mimick those who claim to be victimized by the holidays) was déjà vu. Several years ago, it was a conversation at another nearby Starbucks that inspired me to write a pro-holidays rant. But like the holidays themselves, the holiday haters return every year. They complain about the music. They complain about the decorations. They complain about the commercialization. They especially complain that the holidays “start earlier and earlier every year,” which, if true, would now mean that by definition Christmas decorations would be going up in July. (Simon Doonan, in a superb New York Times piece back in 2007, put some of these myths to bed.)

I will be the first to admit that there are irksome things about the holidays, starting with some of the music. And people who complain about the Thanksgiving week shopping rush starting earlier and earlier not only have the facts on their side, but they are also correct to bemoan what this means for workers. These men and women have to trudge to work on Thanksgiving itself all for the sake of a essentially zero-sum game. But most of the complainers aren’t interested in these details. Instead, they want an excuse to complain, either about the culture more broadly or about their own families.

On the first point, I couldn’t disagree more. The holiday season not only marks the best time of the year for movies, but it also leads to a focus on books that is wonderful to see. It’s true that some of this focus is cheesy, and surely a lot of the books bought in December sit unread, but it’s still cheery to see people walking around bookstores and sharing common reading experiences. (There are also those people who complain about year-end 10-best lists, but they were dealt with brilliantly by Louis Menand a decade ago.)

As for family, I am sorry for anyone who has to deal with dreadful in-laws or even blood relatives, but do not blame the holidays. It would take more than two hands to count all the people I know who moan endlessly about the prospect of a single dinner with various undesirable relatives, and I am quite certain that a lot of them would be happier if they just allowed the evening to pass without spending the prior week or month complaining about it. The same goes, needless to say, for the color of your tea cup. Just let it pass.

So, as you sit around your table on Thanksgiving, and welcome family next month, remember that the holidays have been commercial for a long time, the “season” has started in November for decades, and there are plenty of fun things to do with the time off. Translation: stop complaining.