12/26/2015 10:11

Home Alone

St. Stephen's Day and I'm home alone. Aloneness is less enforced today than yesterday. Most stores and restaurants are open and (much more important to me) the public library is operating. Nearly everything shuts down on Christmas Day, so casual social interactions screech to a near halt -- it's as if the early hours of the morning are extended over the entire day.

The advantages of this arrangement for highly functioning families are fairly clear. Because everything in the country shuts down, all family members are free to be with each other (subject to the costs and other barriers against free travel). The disadvantages to people with disfunctional and nonexistent families ought to be modest: an 18 hour fast from the habitual levels of social contact mitigated by extended advance notice, permitting the stocking of books to read, movies to watch, or plans for pleasant walks or drive through the quiet country.

The costs should be modest, but we seem to undertake every possible approach to exacerbating them. Television programming on Christmas is switched to a continuing series of programs reminding the audience that they are missing the socially approved forms of celebration. The news is filled with stories of good hearted souls creating temporary, artificial families as a substitute for an hour or two. Churches pray for people in situations like mine, thus informing me that my life is incomplete.

I notice, by the way, that those who pray for me are not likely to invite me to join their family for their holiday celebration. Perhaps that's because then I would no longer be a fit subject for these prayers, and one needs to have someone to pity. But it may be that the families who know me well enough to know that I'm alone can also see that the assumption behind the prayer doesn't well match the reality of my life. The objects of formulaic compassion are often strawmen; better that our prayers be directed toward known needs than that the words prayed create abstract pigeonholes in which to file people.

There are obvious benefits for society in setting aside a day for families to join together and strengthen their bonds. The advantages of a date at the beginning of winter can be argued; uncertain travel trades off against reduced competition from alternative activities. Coincidence with a holy day in the predominant religion has been helpful to the civil holiday, though whether Christianity has been helped or hurt is harder to estimate.

But further marginalizing non-participants is egregious. They -- we -- are already left out of most aspects of Civil Christmas; we hardly need to be reminded that we are outsiders. Let those who are Christian celebrate Christian Christmas and wait out the rest of the holiday in peace.