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December 19, 2013

Appreciate a Real Holiday Experience

by Ruth Chung

Holidays lie. In all the books, commercials and movies, the holidays are depicted very idealistically. Holidays are always presented as perfect, once-in-a-lifetime, magical moments—whether it be the type with the perfect family of four who eat cookies and never stop grinning (even in their sleep), and whose biggest dilemma is where the angel on the top of the tree went; or whether it be the type to include a wild adventure or fatal happening, and then the heart warmth of it all is how they manage to have a nice holiday despite their ludicrous (or dismal) surroundings. In either situation, there are those “magical moments” that leave upon any observant (whether it was the creator’s intention or not­) the impression that “this is how the holidays are quite normally spent.” Those images create a type of expectation for real life to be this way. Supposedly, these standards are sometimes met, but in a normal life, it is usually unusual for holidays like these to exist. More often, it is the individual peculiarities of each celebration that make the holidays worth it.

But “worth it” can be different in anybody’s eyes. Some prefer to celebrate with friends, some prefer to celebrate with strangers, some might even prefer to celebrate alone, or with the single company of a drink; and better yet, some even choose not to give notion to the holidays at all. For me, it was always celebrated with family. That is how it always was, and that is how it should always be. Thanksgiving, being one of the bigger holidays at home, was always spent in Chicago with extended family. It was a tradition—something looked forward to. The familiarity comforted me.

It always consisted of us all gathering at our cousins’ house: the girls would talk excitedly in one room and the boys would play videogames in the other; the mothers would be frantic in the kitchen and the fathers would talk of Korean politics and things—and the smell of food would waft through the air. Everybody would feel warm. But this year was spent in three different places, because various people in my family chose to spend Thanksgiving also in various places. Not once was there the usual warm feeling, or the feeling of comfort. It was different, and I did not like it. It left me feeling empty, and above all—alone. Of course, I was with the people I was normally with, and of course nothing had really changed—but because it was not exactly as it usually was, I did not want to accept anything in “exchange.” I moped around, sulking for I was not getting what I wanted. I thought of all the other people and families and with a pang of envy imagined them getting their happy holiday as in the books and the movies—as in the way I expected my family to be.

Sitting alone in my room after all what I thought to be “petty celebration,” I wondered what a fallacy it was for me to be sitting, hating and wanting so much more on Thanksgiving Day—the one day of the year most people at least attempt to spend it unconventionally thankful.

And then for some reason it hit me.

If my holiday were to be filmed and put upon a big screen for the masses to watch, half the theater would be empty by the time it was halfway through. Why? Because there is nothing in my family celebrations with which they might connect. Movies are entertainment, and entertainment is entertainment because people feel a connection to it or are drawn in. Movies are meant to relieve people from their “ordinary lives,” to excite people, or make them feel something. Movies, most often, are not reality. So what is? The reality of holidays and all of the joy we feel and the memories we keep close is that these realities are our own. The holidays we experience are real, and the reality of it is that while holidays might sometimes be dry or unfulfilling, those very oddities are what make it its own.

So this is what I had learned this past Thanksgiving, sitting at home, alone in my room. Holidays are a lie—and my expectations, through the roof. Idealism, which all youth tend to have, is eventually torn down. Though despondent, it is inevitable. It is healthy. It is true. This holiday I learned to love what is real.

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