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Keepin' it Real: Authentic Celebrations for Family Holidays

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.

Just two short days after costume-clad trick-or-treaters had paraded through the leaf-blanketed lawns of candy land, I received an email invitation to attend a “Holiday Open House.” Christmas already? I wondered. My glow-in-the-dark skeleton had barely found its way back to the closet. And according to my calendar, Thanksgiving was our next scheduled celebration.

Sure enough, the “holiday event” was scheduled to take place 2 ½ weeks before our national day of gratitude at a popular shopping mall, featuring gifts and ornaments that “capture what the season is all about.” 

Hold it right there! What happened to Thanksgiving? Isn’t being grateful what the season is really all about? 

In rebellion, I fired back a reply begging the event planners to rethink the date. Shouldn’t we slow down for a few weeks to savor the harvest before jumping into a frenzied shopping spree? 

If you haven’t guessed, Thanksgiving’s a sacred holiday at my house.

I welcome the wafting aromas that slip out of ovens and long-simmering pots. I anticipate the flavor of savory and sweet organic ingredients, including buttery pie crusts and cool whipped cream married to warm spiced pumpkin.

Then there’s the priceless ritual of holding hands with the people we love most, counting our blessings aloud, and lingering at the candle-lit table. We recite thanks for each other, our work, our health, our ancestors, and the farmers who toiled to produce our feast.   

However, I’ve always found it ironic that we follow our traditional day of thanks for the things that matter most, with the busiest shopping day of the year – hunting for things that matter the least. And I get raging mad when I’m rushed into holiday shopping before stuffing my bird, or composting my jack-o-lanterns. 

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood agrees. The Boston-based national coalition of health-care providers, teachers, and parents share our concerns about the harmful effects of commercialism on children and families. (1

CCFC co-founder, Susan Linn, a psychologist and author of “Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood,” believes that children have the right to grow up – and parents have the right to raise them – without being undermined by rampant consumerism. What’s more, our consumer culture of get and spend erodes children’s psychological well-being. (2)

As the pressure to spend heats up, remember that your children may not ask for what they really want: less stuff and more precious time with family, friends and nature. (3)

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