‘Tis the Season to Celebrate Our Shared Cultural Identity
There is something more than a little anodyne about the catch-all greeting ‘happy holidays’ which is now catching on in Britain. If no particular religious festival or ‘Holy Day’ – whether Christmas, Hannukah, or whatever – is identified, we are left with the negative notion of that which we are not doing at this time, i.e., working. A culture wherein hard work is prized and praised finds it easy to view holidays themselves in a negative light or as time spent preparing to work again, rather than as activities valuable in their own right which must temporarily displace work because of their importance.
There is even a tendency to lose sight of a wider cultural importance of holiday time as a subtle, but nonetheless real, form of social glue. Mandated holidays remove us from the work place and bring to our attention much that we share with a larger circle than is apparent from the ‘nine-to-five’ routine. Christmas viewed as time to spend with our families supports society by highlighting a near-universal fact of life. Our experiences in this sphere may in fact be quite diverse, but the basic assumptions in play remain constant. Our common need for loving mothers and fathers is something strangers may relate to more readily than reports, orders or plans peculiar to one profession that have to be in by the end of the month.
But the ‘society’ of Christmas holidays reaches far beyond family. It is shared with the rest of the country (regardless of religion), and by such sharing we are brought closer to people we may not even have met. The holidays offer a space for fostering familiarity with one another, and at a time when we fear social ‘atomisation’ we might do well to remind ourselves that there is more to Christmas than taking time off work.