What if we had a Christmas and nobody came?
December 31, 2003
Once upon a time in years gone by in America, Mom and Dad gathered with Bobby, Sally, and baby Patrick around the tree on Christmas morning. Occasionally, they were joined by Uncle Hal, Aunt Elsie, Uncle Rocky, Aunt Edwina and the cousins.
Even larger family gatherings happened around a turkey-feast on Thanksgiving where the elders and older cousins sat at the dining table and the younger cousins crowded around card tables.
As America rumbles into the 21st century, such gatherings have all but disappeared.
When my sons were small, we still gathered around the Christmas tree but not always on Christmas morning. The selected time depended on their father’s work schedule. A blackjack dealer at a Stateline casino, he only had holidays off when they fell on his regular day off — sometimes, not even then.
When I began working in a newsroom, I sometimes had holidays off and sometimes I took my turn in the office. News doesn’t stop on holidays. Now, at a small newspaper that only publishes two and a half times a week, it’s easier to work ahead. I usually have major holidays off, but not the days before and after.
Yet my schedule is the most normal of my family.
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This year, we are planning a family gathering to exchange Christmas presents the weekend after New Years when more of us can take off. One brother and his wife work in retail. They often work six or more days a week leading up to Christmas and New Years.
Even with the change, we won’t be able to get everyone together. My other brother works in a casino and doesn’t get weekends off. One of my sons works as a bellman at a Lake Tahoe hotel. This weekend is likely to be the busiest yet as everyone seeks to leave at the same time.
During my childhood, my father worked for the school district and my mother as an accountant. Other times of the year were very busy, but not holidays. Most of my friends’ parents also worked in jobs with 8 to 5 schedules and weekends and holidays off. Even teen-aged cousins working at restaurants and clothing stores usually had at least holidays off since most of those businesses closed.
My family’s not alone. The changes in my holiday gatherings reflect a fundamental change in employment, not only within my family, but the nation.
Today, a larger and larger percent of the adult population work in industries that depend on holiday business. That is especially true in tourist areas such as Lake Tahoe, but is more and more true elsewhere. My brother and sister-in-law live in the east Bay Area. Both have college educations. Both work in retail.
As family life evolves to support our consumer culture, what will holidays be like in the future? Probably, more and more people will celebrate as I do now: on different days and with fewer people around the table.
Once upon a time in the distance future, we had a holiday and no one was home.