Skipping the Holidays: A Social Experiment
What would happen if you skipped every “American” holiday from Halloween to Easter? I am not certain, but I realize I have ventured into what I am calling a social experiment.
I am living in a rural coastal village in the southeast of Puerto Rico. My home for the last month and coming six months, sits high up on a hill overlooking the Caribbean. Daily, I am serenaded by the sound of the surf, coqui frogs, wind rustling the trees, happy little birds, vocal roosters, stray dogs, and uninterrupted thoughts. I have come here in search of a quiet refuge to write my dissertation. I have no car, and there is no transit system in this sleepy little town, so I am truly secluded. My days are blurred, as each morning I wake up and spend personal time reflecting and journalling. Then I take my sweet dog down the hill for a jog on the beach before it gets too warm. Then I spend the day between my rocking chair or my hammock, reading, writing, and thinking. Late afternoon, I may go swim laps in the pool, before my daily ritual of yoga at sunset. I am not a yogi, merely a beginner… but I can’t imagine a better way to find your center than stretching the body and mind while watching the sun cascade visions of colors in the sky and slip behind a tree filled and lush green promontory at the front of my view. My evenings are filled with more reading, writing, and thinking. It is the perfect place to be!
Upon making the decision for this sequestered writing journey, I didn’t really consider that I would miss the holidays, as at the time, it wasn’t on my mind and was not a priority. Last week, I was working and realized it was Halloween. Though my Facebook feed had been filled with pictures of cute little kiddos, as well as friends wearing things they really should have thought twice about, I had not really missed the trouble of figuring out a costume, donning up for parties, hassling with decorations, or buying candy for kids that never come to my door. Now my Facebook feed and email junk folder are flooded with thoughts of the holidays and relentless marketing.
A question I have been asking myself quite frequently lately is: What is the point? The origin of this question to myself stems from efforts to simplify my life of unnecessary baggage, emotions, and stuff. Do I miss the comforts of home? the ease of working in my gadget filled kitchen? the ability to frequent grocery stores and malls to buy each and every thing I want? Sometimes, but I am becoming refreshed by and accustomed to the simplicity of my environment. So, today, in reflecting about the push and race for the holidays, I asked myself, “What is the point?’
While I could venture into some “reason for the season” rationale, my immediate supposition is that I will save time, money, stress, and even my waistline. My secondary supposition is that I get to avoid some of the social structures that are pressured upon us, and that may be the heart of this social experiment.
I have just finished reading two articles by Candace West, the first Doing Gender, and the second Doing Difference, both of which are printed in The Gendered Society Reader. The second article puts forth a perspective that gender, race, and class are “ongoing, methodical, and situated accomplishments” (pg 230), meaning we conceive of these things as emergent properties of social situations, in which we are forced to “DO” things that situate us in our assigned/chosen gender, race, and class. For example:
- I didn’t feel socially compelled to wear a skimpy Halloween costume to express myself as a woman.
- I won’t have to cook extravagant dishes and wash up the kitchen while the men watch the Cowboys lose.
- I won’t feel compelled to spend more than I should on Christmas gifts that are representative of the social class I want everyone to think I am in.
- I won’t don a beautiful gown and go to a New Year’s Eve ball to be waited on by those that can’t afford the luxury of a night off.
- I won’t go on a dinner date with a man who is expected to give me flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day.
- I won’t go buy a pretty spring colored flowery dress, buck shoes, and straw hat to show off at church for Easter.
Sure, some might call these traditions, but aren’t they in some sense us playing roles that fulfill the expectations of who we are “supposed to be” and what we are “supposed to do” – based on our gender, race, and class?
Thus, my social experiment is this: If I do not participate in any holiday between now and April, will I feel any less like a white middle class female because I haven’t played my role? My hypothesis is an overwhelming, NO. I will still be a white middle class female who will be sucked back into the social roles of the holidays next year. I certainly see the irony of the proposition, in that I am overtly privileged to be here in Puerto Rico with the option to skip the holidays. But what about everyone else on the mainland who not only succumbs to the roles, but perpetuates them? What about the families who feel so much pressure to buy Christmas gifts for their kids that they gamble with credit or layaway efforts and sacrifice their well being for the next few months? Or the middle school girl who thinks that she has to wear a skimpy costume to be accepted? Or all the races of people in America who are bombarded by highly commercialized holidays that are not representative of their cultures? I question again… What is the point?
As we move deeper and deeper into the end of the year holidays, and then into spring, I am going to be questioning the social structures of race, gender, and class and how each is expressed through these celebrations. I feel like I will have a birds eye view (through connections back home and via the media), and the ability to observe what is happening, but not forced to engage. In the end, I hope my perspective has changed, and my mind opened to the extent that we are “doing difference” everyday.
A Note for educators:
What pressures do you think the holidays have on your students? How can you be sensitive to the needs and situations of all students, so they don’t feel oppressed by socially structured roles of gender, race, and class?