Like everything else it seems, holidays aren’t what they used to be

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

November and December are crammed with holidays, gatherings and corollary events – like food, decorations and those unavoidable Hallmark holiday television specials.

Even though 9 in 10 Americans say they celebrate the holidays, according to a Pew Research Center survey, many Christmas traditions people enjoyed as kids are dying out.

Some of the things we thought made Christmas so Christmassy now seem like obligations — or burdens.

Here are some traditions, both well-known and more obscure, that people, especially millennials, seem happy to leave behind.

Holiday cards – and year re-cap letters

Who (under 50 or so) sends Christmas/holiday letters or cards?

With social media and a dozen other more immediate (and constant) ways of keeping in touch, what does any kind of holiday card accomplish?

And those year end letters?

I don’t think I’ve ever sent one out, and of those few that we get, I almost never feel that they are telling me anything even remotely interesting or memorable.

Child number one is in this grade, child number two is in that grade and all are in special programs and are geniuses.

Once I had a relative who put out what he called an “honest family newsletter” with details on job loss, illnesses, fights and legal problems.

That letter was a bit more interesting, but we still recycled it almost immediately.

Photos with Santa

Getting kids to sit on Santa’s lap is very strange when you think about it. Bribing kids with candy to sit in a stranger’s lap is not quite consistent with the message parents usually give their children.

Antsy children waiting in line and toddlers screaming in fear isn’t the holiday vibe most of us are going for.

Pets for presents

Whether it’s a pony or a kitten, when it comes to animals for holiday presents, just don’t.

That puppy or kitten is a real animal that will need years of feeding and constant, if not expensive, care.

Those baby animals are cute on Christmas morning — but they don’t stay that way very long.

Pets require vast amounts of preparations and, their departure will never be pleasant.

Elf on the shelf

I can’t say I’ve ever really understood this peculiarly American holiday tradition.

It’s only been around since 2005 and the premise seems to be that the elf is a scout for Santa and helps him spy on kids to see if they’re naughty or nice.

Again, I’m not convinced that the whole idea is something most parents fully support.

It seems like just another topic for parents to be not fully truthful about.

White Elephant gift exchanges

I have to admit that I usually like these, but the premise is strange when you think about it; you round up something you don’t want, like a gift from a previous year or you buy some cheap trinket, wrap it up and hope someone wants it – and that you don’t see it again – at least until the next year.

Usually all the gifts go into a pile, and everyone draws a number to determine the order of picking a random gift. If you don’t like the present you unwrap, you can trade it for one already opened by someone – which means that if you get something you like, someone with a higher number might take it from you.

It’s sort of the opposite of personalized gift giving where you find some thing someone you care about might actually want.

The White Elephant exchange is where you get rid of awkward gifts – and hope you don’t go home with something even odder.

Holiday Music

Maybe I’m just turning into the Grinch, but with each passing year I have less and less tolerance for holiday music.

Starting earlier and earlier in November, radio stations swap out their regular play lists for “festive” songs of the season.

And you hear the same six holiday tunes playing in practically every store.

After a day or two I feel like I’m in some kind of holiday flavored psych-ops brainwashing session.

Why radio stations promote 24/7 holiday music will always baffle me.

Maybe it’s just me, but it only takes an hour or so of “holiday music” to hit the “cruel and unusual” stage.

Holiday “Specials”

Just like radio, holidays seem to take over television and move screens.

There will always be classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and It’s a Wonderful life, but Hallmark keeps churning out new and ever more formulaic holiday-themed movies.

The Hallmark Channel debuted in 2001, and in 2009 it unveiled its “Countdown to Christmas” holiday programming, which begins in October and runs until January.

But it seems like eternity…

Since 2008, Hallmark has reportedly made close to 140 holiday-themed flicks, with 40 more coming out this year alone.

This is my bias I know, but if a radio or TV station promised to play NO Christmas programming in November and December, I’d be a fan for life.

Visiting multiple friends and relatives on certain days

Holidays, by definition, are on certain, specific days.

What used to be celebrations have become obligations – usually involving driving in what, for most of us, is the worst, and most dangerous time of the year.

For couples, spending time with in-laws can be as exhausting as it is obligatory.

But no matter who it is, if these are people we only see once a year, maybe there’s a good reason.


I guess I’m biased, but I am convinced that trees belong outside – and in the ground.

Did we really need loose needles and a whole crop of spiders in the living room?

And then there is philosophical debate between real or artificial.

Both are a nuisance to transport, store and clean up after.

And are there certain rules or guidelines about when to put it up or take it down?

Holiday shopping?

OK, who loves holiday shopping?

I couldn’t tell you how many news anchors have moaned about how current supply chain glitches are “ruining Christmas”.


Are the holidays really all about shopping and buying?

What is it that we imagine that we are buying?

Do we actually believe that we are “buying” joy or any of the “merriment” we see on display in those holiday displays?

Going further into debt to buy stuff few of us need or want is hardly a way to celebrate anything.


If you want to alienate people around your holiday gathering, just bring up fruitcake.

Fruitcake has been around almost forever, associated with holidays since ancient Rome.

Because some versions of the cake are soaked in alcohol, it stays fresh longer and can remain in the freezer for over a year. And most of us think it should stay there.


If there was one holiday, ahem, tradition that has not aged well, mistletoe would be it.

It might be a central feature in a Hallmark holiday movie, but in real life, it’s more than a bit creepy.

Actually, when I think about it, many of what we have come to accept as “normal” holiday traditions are somewhere on the “creepy” scale; from Elf on the Shelf to sitting on Santa’s lap – or even telling tales about Santa – or the packaged cheeriness, or the endless obligations of decorating or hosting or visiting people you only see once a year, or those holiday songs or TV “specials” that veer into the predatory or grossly inappropriate, the whole experience seems more awkward and forced every year.

The real meaning of the holidays?

Holidays are all about symbols, from trees to glitter and gifts.

And what they all mean is embedded in our traditions and personal experiences.

One meme I saw online, building on the Dickens’ tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, pointed out that the holidays seem to be about a divine presence terrorizing rich people until they treat their workers fairly.

If that’s the message, maybe we should celebrate the holidays throughout the entire year.

Maybe that is the message…..