EDITORIAL: Holidays should be about more than escapism

By Editorial Board

St. Patrick’s Day is rapidly approaching, which means Americans are ready to don “Kiss me, I’m Irish” shirts, dye the Chicago River green and binge-drink from morning to night. Store aisles are lined with chocolate gold pieces and tacky green suits covered in four-leaf clovers. This version of the holiday is a far cry from what was once a deeply religious holiday celebrated with religious services and feasts. We might be having fun, but we might also be doing more damage than we realize.

In the U.S., holidays are largely commercialized; buy chocolates and diamonds on Valentine’s Day, order half-off margaritas on Cinco de Mayo and end Thanksgiving early to buy gifts for Christmas. We know very little about what we’re even celebrating. St. Valentine was a martyr. Cinco de Mayo honors the Mexican army’s victory at the Battle of Puebla. Society has become so demanding of us that we are desperate for any chance to relax and unwind, and so we turn holidays into something they do not need to be.

We use holidays as a way to cope with a society outpacing us. We see it as harmless because it gives us an excuse to grab tacos with our friends or spend time with our significant others. The culture that makes us feel like we need holidays is the one that destroys our enjoyment of them. Capitalism values commodities and consumption above everything else. It would rather sell us a narrow-minded, appropriated caricature of Mexican life centered around sombreros, tacos and margaritas than encourage us to discover the nuances of an unfamiliar culture. When we remove respect and tradition from holidays and replace them with consumption and excess, we create an exhausting cycle. We waste money on things we do not actually want and never find any fulfillment, meaning or value.

Holidays have stopped being a time to connect with our histories and communities and have become a vehicle for consumption. Even our movies revolve around rediscovering the “true meaning” of holiday seasons, signaling a clear disconnect between the way we are currently celebrating and the ways we want to celebrate. Holidays are inherently valuable because they give us a chance to slow down and do something besides work. But partying, costumes and blowout sales are just a distraction from the fact that our culture is eating us alive. We need to escape day-to-day challenges without bastardizing the celebrations of other groups.

This is not to say that taking part in holidays that aren’t “ours” is necessarily a bad thing. Celebrating and investing in cultures that are not our own can be an incredibly meaningful tool for societal change. If we can approach these holidays with a desire to connect with others and respect the ways cultures come together, we might get more out of them than a hangover.

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