Love. Friendship. Family. Nothing matters more. And yet, these days it seems our calendars are always packed, our days so busy that it can be hard to simply sit down and reconnect with those who matter most to us. That’s why we love the holidays, the one time of year when everything, for at least a few days, can slow down, when we finally have a chance to take a seat and take a breath and get to know each other again.
We all have our own traditions. We all have different destinations, whether it’s to our childhood home, the apartment of a friend, or someplace new every year. We all bring our own favorite dishes to the table (a scoop of Pumpkin Cheesecake with your turkey and potatoes, anyone?), but what matters is that we sit at that table together.
In this time of so much division and polarization, it matters now more than ever.
The Meaning of Family
What does it mean to be in a family? For some of us, family consists of those we grew up with, who welcome us home, who love us no matter what. For others, family is the group of people we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with, friends who know who we really are and wouldn’t want us any other way.
As we gather with our families over the holidays, it’s also worth thinking about what family is not. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, families are not places where everyone is necessarily going to agree, where we all have the same taste in music or want to watch the same movies or eat the same ice cream (wait, you don’t want any Pumpkin Cheesecake??). But that’s okay. You might disagree with your uncle or your friend or your parents, but do you love them any less? Agreement is not a prerequisite for love.
When we look around at each other over the holidays, we see so many different faces, we see people with different backgrounds and beliefs, and we realize that we are not there to agree. We are there to celebrate what unites us. The bonds that bring us close. Families can be incredibly strong because of their diversity and respect for diversity.
Unity vs. Uniformity
Clearly, being united does not mean being the same. Families welcome difference, they respect and honor everyone’s viewpoints. They listen to each other, rather than condemn. They share their opinions, rather than insisting they’re right.
Of course, there are some things that have no place at any table. Anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia—all of us need to stand up against hate. This can be hard to do when the person saying hateful things is a member of our family, harder still if that person is someone we love. But still, hate must never be tolerated. When we hate we fail to see the humanity in each other, and no one’s humanity should ever be denied.
Confronting hate can be hard. Things can get messy. But it’s important to be honest. Speak your truth, but speak with love and compassion. Listen with love too, love for the person if not what he or she says. This is the work we all need to do, in our own homes, with our friends and family, and with others wherever we are. These conversations may not easy, but they are necessary.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable, it’s okay to strike out into unfamiliar territory with your family members. In fact, it’s essential, if we want to grow and change, as people and as a country. We will never bridge the divides in this nation if we stay exactly where we’ve always been. Challenge your friends, challenge yourself. Get to really know people, and open your heart to their experiences.
This holiday season, as we sit at this table together, let’s take the time to share, listen, and learn.