Opinion

What to do When Politics and Ideology Destroy Family Traditions During the Holidays

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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Facebook

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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Kathleen J. Anderson

USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts Saint and Artist husband. Writer, lifelong conservative, lover of all things American History, and not-so-secret Ancient Aliens fanatic. Homeschool maven, Masters in Political Management, constitutionalist, and chock full of opinions.

View Comments

  • Oh come on it is easy to deal with rabid liberal family members. You just serve them the stuff you dropped on the floor, the over cooked meat that is stringy and dry and the over seasoned stuff no one else wants then sit back after tossing down a few and watch the festivities begain lol

  • I have family who ALWAYS shows up 2 to 3 hours later than everyone else. Their daughters are entitled leftists who do nothing but criticize the cooking, yet contribute nothing to the meal or the cleanup. I am tempted to go out to eat with my immediate family and friends and just come home for pie and coffee. I want to tell them to make their own plans next year. I'm just plain tired of spending all that money on food, and three days of food preparation for a bunch of ingrates. I have a painful autoimmune condition I have to deal with as well.

  • Big deal the normal american holiday meal comes with a drunk uncle trying to fondel all the girls, a sister that storms out of the room crying and a burnt turkey flying across the kitchen, how much more damage could politics really do

    • You're not wrong. Family politics can be just as nasty as regular politics. My grandfather on my fathers side was a very successful farmer/rancher and had aquired a lot of land and cattle. By the time he decided to retire my father was the only one who could manage to buy grandpa out. It made his older brother and sister biter and nasty even though they had been treated very fairly by my grandfather. Most of their kids were inundated with that bitterness. It made the holiiays while my grandfather was alive very difficult. After he died it got worse. These days my mother doesn't even invite them to holidays. I haven't spoken to any of them since my father's funeral. They still hold the grudge and don't like me or my siblings. As far as I can tell adding TDS on top of that isn't all that much.

  • I am very disturbed by this trend, but I would like to point out that those that want to block and get rid of the political dissent are all those that are of the 'tolerant' party. Notice that in all the twitter examples, those with the blue check are the leftist Marxist that want to get rid of their 'right wing uncle' or have the wives divorce their 'republican husbands'. These are the ones pushing the divide. The true conservatives are looking at why this happened or how to cope. I blame the leftist media and now our 'progressive' government for pushing for this divide.

  • Like most Veterans Thanksgiving gained more meaning when I was on guard duty in Germany away from family in the late 1960s. My immediate family is gone now except my Brother & Sister who live across the country, so it's only my wife and I. This year we are having a couple friends over to share our meal with us and maybe start a new tradition. I miss those days with all the family around my aunt's dining table and a kids table brimming with with all the traditional goodies plus a few cooked up by my Cajun aunt. Like you say, we have to move on and start new traditions while still holding on to as many of the old ones as we can. My house honors free speach as long as it's not obnoxious or vicious.
    May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and start a new tradition of your own.

  • Best article I’ve seen in awhile. Take heart people and forgive your democrat relatives and friends for being stupid and and ruining our country.

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