The holiday season is upon us, and holiday movies are in full swing, especially if you are a Hallmark Channel devotee like my mother. So naturally, I like to make fun of these Hallmark movies as anybody does.

These movies start airing shortly after Halloween so that from the time you plan Thanksgiving until the end of Christmas, you can mindlessly escape to some vapid Hallmark storyline. You can guarantee the movie set will be some northeastern city with one main character trying to hold on to some small-town business. In contrast, another main character who had left the small town for the big city has returned to destroy not just small business owners but the very fabric of the city itself.

There is also generally a lot of apple picking and perfectly coiffed snow showers. But what makes these movies so likable even to those of us who find them boring and ridiculous isn’t the actual plot which is about as interesting as watching paint dry, but the appealing aspect of what always underlies each character’s background: traditions.

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Who Doesn’t Want to Belong

Traditions are commonly felt during the holidays. Historically, that tends to be when families gather the most, reminisce about days gone by, and build upon memories. Traditions tend to bring a form of comfort because they connect people, whether they are families or friends.

These connections are also often built around events or other constructs, such as faith or shared community experiences. For example, you have traditions with family around holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

However, there are also traditions surrounding events or other groups, such as the tradition of saying the names of those who lost their lives on September 11th and the practice many of us service members share of laying wreaths on veteran graves for Memorial Day. As Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry, explains, “Traditions create cohesion. They illustrate that we are a part of each other’s lives.”

When you gather with family to eat the same meal and tell the same stories year after year, it’s a way of pledging your membership to the group. But what happens when the traditions are gone, and thus the cohesion is broken?

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Bring on the Politics

Family estrangement is not new, and rifts between loved ones due to political and ideological differences are also not new. However, it does seem to be more prevalent these days.

According to a New York Times and Sienna College poll this year, one in five voters, which is about 19% of all voters, say that politics have hurt their friendships or family relationships. Of those surveyed, half said they admitted to making judgments about people based on their political affiliations.

For example, 48% said that they associated a person’s political views with whether they were an inherently good person or not, without even engaging much with the individual to know them further. How can that be?

It’s not as if the two-party political system is a new phenomenon in our country, and it’s not as if Americans haven’t been friends or maintained family relationships with people of opposing political viewpoints. So why do so many of us now cut people out of our lives based on political affiliation?

The answer lies at our fingertips.

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I have a Facebook account, which makes me old. I enjoy Facebook though because I can share pictures of my kids with family and friends.

However, Facebook doesn’t just make it easy to share pictures; it also makes it easy to cut people from our lives surgically. All one must do to sever the ties of friendship or any relationship now is simply block that person on social media. 

Gone are the days of face-to-face discourse or actual confrontation. Now it’s all about that non-confrontation confrontation. 

However, it is exponentially more painful. Like many of you, I have a family member or two and some friends that have since blocked me from social media or, in general, no longer speak to me because of my political affiliation. 

While most of the year, I can shrug this sort of radio silence off, the holiday season makes it more challenging due to the traditions I was lucky enough to grow up with.

Out With the Old, in With the New

Growing up, I can’t recall any Thanksgiving traditions. However, Christmas was very much the same each year. We would almost always travel to visit my grandparents, whom my children are now named after, and enjoy the same meal each year, go to church, open gifts, play cards and laugh until we almost peed our pants.

Since my grandparents passed away, Christmas slowly started to adjust and has completely fallen apart within the last few years. The last few were tense, with a general feeling that things would never be as they used to be.

Most recently, it’s become evident that the family traditions I grew up with are probably long gone, and get-togethers will be much smaller. This made me quite sad, and I’d be lying if I said it still doesn’t bother me to my core.

However, I choose not to focus on the things I can’t control or change. For example, I can’t control the fact that I have family members who can’t see past their political differences to mine and have since cut me from their lives. 

What I can control are the memories and traditions I help build for my children.

My Christmas Wish

The reality is the tradition I miss the most from my younger years was quiet times spent with my grandparents. My grandma and grandpa taught me a lot about the importance of tenderness, caring for others, and patience.

While holiday get-togethers from now on will have different traditions than I grew up with, I can still create new ones based on the same tenets my grandparents taught me during the holidays. I wish my children enjoy the holidays and not feel the political tension or conversational constrictions placed on our family over the last few years.

My house has no arbitrary boundaries that state you can’t talk about politics or watch whatever news station you want. I only require that people treat each other with respect within the walls of my home. 

I endeavor to teach my kids that a person’s political preferences do not directly reflect their entire identity or what lies in their hearts. But, unfortunately, somewhere, we’ve lost the ability to talk to one another as humans.

And even worse, we’ve forgotten how to talk about anything other than politics. So instead, we must bring back the core traditions that hold families together.

The traditions are not rooted in recipes or games but in lessons and love. So while holidays at my house might not emulate a Hallmark movie or the holidays of yesteryear, they will still be wonderful because we have built our traditions based on love and grace.

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