Editor’s note: This commentary is by Walt Amses, a writer who lives in North Calais.
Well, it’s that magical time of year again, the slog between Thanksgiving and Christmas where people — particularly baby boomers — wonder why everything seems so ridiculous when it’s supposed to be either festive fun or mystically religious. Full disclosure: I’m a boomer and, like every other boomer, I feel glibly self important and consequently, understand why everyone thinks we’re dinosaurs and is anxiously awaiting the asteroid with our name on it. But I digress.
Thanksgiving, for example, thankfully finished for another year, has evolved over the past half century from the exercise in tradition wherein several iconic generations of a nuclear family surrounding a turkey carcass, blissfully posing for Norman Rockwell, to something far more complex: frequently a mirror into the messy times we live in now and often ground zero for family squabbles reflecting our diversity of opinion on a wide range of politically charged topics.
A quick review of the self-help industrial complex that proliferates the season suggests that our emotional well-being this time of year has the tenuous life expectancy of a plump Butterball (in Vermont, an organically raised, non-junkie, free ranger, painlessly dispatched fowl, lovingly produced to feed both body and soul). Many of us are already licking wounds, harboring grudges and anticipating the rest of the holidays with abject terror. What gives? How did things deteriorate to the point that maintaining our sanity has become number one on the holiday hit parade?
There are literally hundreds of theories why this is happening and, depending on the source, a few can be pretty entertaining on their own. Ranging from the largely fictionalized “War on Christmas,” generally another fear campaign initiated by conservatives to galvanize the malleable evangelical base; to “commercialization,” which we often forget was the objective of popularizing Christmas in the first place. Each argument makes a certain amount of sense, but is woefully inadequate to quantify the entire phenomenon. That’s where the baby boom generation comes in.
Although boomers may still be part of that intergenerational Rockwell portrait, the seating arrangements have changed markedly since they were feisty undergraduates, explaining in the nicest way possible, what idiots their parents and grandparents were. The painful realization that they have now become those parents and grandparents and their progeny’s “OK Boomer” response from the other end of the table is not an accolade, weighs heavy on the Woodstock psyche. Worse yet, any minute now, according to CNN Business, millennials will overtake them to become a bigger and much more diverse cohort, whose tolerance of their elders is already wearing thin.
While many boomers’ conflicts with those who comprised the “Greatest Generation,” was mostly defensive, responding to parental objections over weird clothing, weird hair, anti-war protests, sexual liberation, pot smoking and the women’s movement, millennials are in attack mode, laser focused on what they perceive to be a world totally screwed up by their immediate forebears. The “OK Boomer” meme has evolved from an initially lighthearted dig to an all encompassing, derogatory line in the sand and not so veiled intimation that everything from climate change to racism to gun violence to unemployment can be attributed to the new, older generation.
Though I’m simpatico with my comrades in decrepitude, I’ve got to admit, the kids have a point, however I don’t think it’s the one they think they have. Part of their issue is that they feel we boomers think we’re special, which is pretty much true and also exactly what many boomers think of their younger critics. But even if boomers aren’t really special or unique in any way, they were certainly made to feel that way during their formative years.
Being children at the dawn of the media age meant that the sheer number of us required attention from Madison Avenue, the Mattel company and the Disney corporation, developing advertising campaigns, toys (Hello Barbie) and entertainment geared toward the soon to be boomer consumer and the billions in revenue we unknowingly represented. We never realized we were considered a commodity in those post-war years, we were just kids being kids, which I think is at least part of the reason today’s holiday seasons are left wanting on so many levels: We’re simply not kids anymore and remembering our admittedly charmed childhoods, is a boomer bummer.
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So here we are, poised for another run at the holidays, with 50-year-old memories burned into our collective hippocampus of being indulged, while coming to terms yet again with being adults, and as such, having the responsibility of indulging others. We must cook, clean, shop, plan, host, visit, etc., all during an increasingly darker and colder time of year, rendering most humans indistinguishable from mammals with enough good sense to crawl into a cave and go to sleep for several months.
But enlightenment — as devout Buddhists know — comes in a sudden flash that might take centuries to arrive. While we begin understanding how our own parents experienced the season: smiling with clenched teeth, through mandated holiday rituals requiring more fortitude and stamina than a wellspring of intrinsic, selfless “cheer,” we can empathize, victimized by adulthood ourselves. Boomers probably needn’t worry. Millennials will come to appreciate them as well … eventually. We may not be around to enjoy it, but hey, nothing’s perfect, particularly this time of year.