feministifying the holidays
December 4, 2003 12:01 PM

I mentioned in this weeks' WHB post this Bitch article (I mean, I think it was Bitch. It might have been, as someone said, Butch.) that made me all cranky about christmas.

The ironic thing is, I read this article so long ago that when it came time to post the question it had inspired, I could only remember the ideas it sparked for me, not any of the content of the article per se. I drift. But then Kerri reminded me of one of the things about the article that irked me: casually dismissing holiday traditions as "really not all that traditional". Namely the lighting of stuff (trees, candles, buildings, the entirety of most downtown city blocks). Well, sure, electric light is kinda new. But Channukah, all kinds of light (festival of light, in fact)- thousands of years old. Saturnalia, Yule, both candlerific - not celebrated so much these days, but hey, big huge fires; you don't get your own log and not be about fire and light. Anyhow, Christmas is basically a combination of Channukah, Saturnalia and Yule, and that makes it a holiday heir to thousands and thousands of years of excessive fire and light. I say pfft. And also thanks to Kerri for reminding me of that little factoid. It's okay to dismiss or change a tradition, but do it in an informed fashion.

Now that my irritated sidebar is out of the way, I can talk more about this wacky intersection of feminism, religious history and crass commercialism known as my personal take on christmas.

Not to refer to Kerri excessively, but she pointed out something so obvious I probably wouldn't have thought much about it - how much of holiday celebration is the responsibility of women? How little of it is the responsibility of men? Respectively quite a lot, and not that much, in most houses. Well, gee, that's weird. Isn't it?

I think a lot of that has to do with this notion that women are allowed to be more expressive, so we're permitted to have more enthusiasm about the whole holiday thing as we grow up. Also, holiday celebrating is very much centered on the home, and, as I've mentioned before, the home is the province of women. We've tried to make that less true at our house, but I still find that I drive most of our holiday choices (gift-giving, decorating, etc.), ostensibly because I care more. My partner contributes opinions and labor.

Have you heard of the "honey-do list"? I hadn't until fairly recently. The premise is that in heterosexual houses women give their partners these lists of household chores for them to do - typically things involving tools, presumably just because they're men. I assume it's a "honey-do" list because these requests are usually preceded with a cajoling "Honey...?"

It's a sexist concept. Why assume that a man will want to do what a woman won't, or that a woman can't do what a man could? Even if that division of labor makes sense for your household, when the woman is basically management and the man labor, it effectively locks the man out of participating in his own home life.

And the holidays seem to bring that out in people. Sometimes even at my house, where I try to avoid that kind of arbitrary labor division. A holiday without a omnipotent cookie-baking ruler is more fun.

I should point out here that, while what I celebrate is basically christmas, I'm really celebrating the "mas" (big party) and not the "christ" (Jesus stuff). I grew up around a lot of kids of various religions and spent some time researching all this stuff (thus the irkedness above), so while my parents' celebration is marginally denominational (light-up nativity, church on xmas eve), my own is highly secularized. We have some religious figures on our wacky modern-fusion tree, because you have to respect religions that produce such gorgeous miniature arts and crafts, and we do a few sortof pagan things (Yule/12th night party, for instance), but we mostly light lots of things and give gifts to the people we really like. Some years I do generic winter holiday cards, some years I don't. This year I'm thinking about making them by hand again (which I haven't done in ages). Or we might do CD's. Anyone want a handmade holiday card or CD? Just email me your address. I send them around New Year.

Perhaps because I'm relatively estranged from most of my extended family, I don't feel a big push to do a huge shopping extravaganza for the family. I don't think it's just the lack of family, though - my product-of-feminism-if-not-feminist family was very much about the thought or answered desire behind gifts, and I think a good combination of rebellious dorkiness and solid feminist politics help anyone defend themselves against the cultural push to make decision X or decision Y. There is very little that I do just because other people are doing it, or want me to do the same.

When it comes to gifts, I do spend a fair amount (probably still a bit less than the national average of $500), but I try to shop for gifts from positive places - about as much I usually do when shopping. Some people on my list are getting presents from Novica and 10,000 Villages (both of which do fairly traded handicrafts). Some things are coming from The Body Shop - which, while in the mall, is still a good company. Others are coming from local places or cool people who make things and sell them over the internet (see the list of links I made a few days ago, or Kerri's original). And, yes, some of them were ordered from places like LL Bean, Sears, Old Navy and such. Not so good, but what people wanted. Getting people things that please them is satisfying.

And I have to say - I like the mall. I especially like it the last 10 days before christmas, when people are sort of spastic and friendly. It's part of that whole feasting thing I talked about around Thanksgiving. Still, I know this is trite, but the thing about holiday gifts should be the thought - a gift is a reminder of a relationship, a celebration.

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your wicked thoughts

Can't believe I forgot to mention The Body Shoppe in my response. I am not getting anything this year (because mom's already got her gift), but usually I get my mom shower gel stuff from there because she likes bath stuff and won't spend the money.

Oh, and thanks for posting about diets being bad for kids. It amazes me how I see kids not bring lunches to school, and then hear them claim they never eat lunch because they aren't hungry.

these are the thoughts of Kerri on December 5, 2003 12:22 PM

A positive note about household labor: Although my father spent most of my growing up years being a hopeless sexist pig, he has grown a lot in the last few years (pre-marriage counseling and dealing with my problems kicked him in the butt to take stock of his life). This includes a really fun division of these labors in his and my stepmother's household. They divide by who's good at what, so if there's a dish he's good at, he cooks it, etc. They also divide the various errands by whichever store is closer to their respective daily routes. And any directing she does is due to the fact that in some cases, he is a lovable bumbling idiot, and it has nothing to do with his gender.
The point is, my formerly crotchety sexist dad has managed to remake that part of his life, and it's heart warming to watch him and his wife around the holidays. So yeah, happy holiday story.

these are the thoughts of megan on December 5, 2003 01:28 PM

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