There is a lot of talk around the holidays about the negative impact of commercialism and consumerism on our culture and our lives. People say it has become about money and we have lost sight of family or God. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stimulation, by all of the marketing, and by all of the demands others make on us to be there for them. This is especially true when we reach our middle years and we not only have our elders, but also our children to concern ourselves with. For my grandparent’s generation, things seem to have been somewhat simpler.
I do not want to assume that life for them was easier, only simpler. In the early 20th Century, it was not uncommon for people to be born, to live, and to die in the same town. Often, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in the same general area as well. Many households included three or more generations living together under one roof. Families were physically closer together.
The general financial market was simpler as well. Households often survived off of a single income. Most businesses were closed during the holidays. There was no internet pulling people’s attention toward the newest products and sales 24-7. Black Friday was a term used to describe the day that many businesses became profitable for the year, not a nationwide sales event to draw people away from their families immediately after Thanksgiving dinner.
I am old enough to have witnessed many of the changes that have taken place in our culture and our lives. I have heard the stories from my grandparents about what the holidays were like for them growing up. I remember the whole family gathering together at my house, my grandparent’s house, or my father’s uncle’s house as a kid. I remember the excitement, the gifts, and the food. Now, things are different. Families are farther apart. Everyone is busier, scrambling to survive the season with two, three, or four jobs sustaining a single household. The commercial demands, business demands, and family demands can be overwhelming when all we are trying to do is survive and get a little bit ahead.
That is why we focus on the children. If they are taken care of, if they feel loved, and if they have fun, then we have been successful. In my opinion, there is nothing more holy than this during the holidays.
– Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu