Oh, the holidays. We get together. We exchange hugs. Gifts. Recipes. Words.

Not all fun and games for everyone, are they? For some, holidays are a painful time. They highlight the gaps. The spaces in between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Disagree on cranberry jelly versus cranberry relish? Do you watch football on Thanksgiving or turn off the TV, leave the Lions to themselves, and play a board game? Do you believe in gift wish lists or in allowing the giver to determine? Do you prefer to stay home for the holidays or travel to loved ones? Each preference highlights a difference.

There are deeper differences, too, aren’t there? Religion. Politics. What we believe about the past. The present. And depending on your personality, you may experience the need for fight or flight.

And yet, at their essence, the holidays are a time to be our better selves. To live in light. To issue in the behaviors that comprise the ideologies which escape us during the mundane execution of 365 days around the sun.

Here’s a basic divide for practicing Christians (with enough space for either): a real or fake tree? A distant friend of mine, in defense of her position, recently posted a story entitled “As Many as 25,000 Bugs Could be Living in Your Live Tree.” Clearly, no live tree for her. Yet many will set aside their buggy fear in support of live, and only live, trees.

Here’s another divide, this one with a sharp escarpment, and potentially more harmful: family or no family? No doubt, family can be painful. We have differences, some dug deeper than the actual number of passing years suggests. At times, gathering with families can feel like walking into a springing trap. Say the wrong thing and snap! Discord. Disagreement. Descent into differences.

We wonder why our government can’t solve its differences. On the big issues, why can’t we just get along? Why do we seem so far apart? Are we beyond repair?

I recently took an online class called “Common Ground” (Coursera), offered by Arthur Lupia,
U-M Professor of Political Science. In it, he talks about an “80/20 principal,” where he posits that on 80% of government’s major issues – gun control, health care, caring for the most vulnerable in society, infrastructure – elected officials actually agree that something should be done. In fact, research by a graduate student supports his theory. We are not so far apart as sensationalism would have us believe.

What if we could hear each other on our issues and simply affirm that people care? What if that were at the beginning of the agenda?

Folks, I know that there are some extremely toxic situations out there. You need to practice self-care and awareness for you and yours.

But what if we could do it? What if, instead of eye rolls, snarky comments, and assumed injury, we could set it all aside? Fewer differences. More commonality. Peace on earth. Goodwill toward the people with whom we are the closest (which means we know each others’ flaws).

My family can recite by heart National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Well-intended and over-reaching Clark W. Griswold sets out to create the best family celebration ever, with disastrous, but ultimately redeeming results. As he explains his plan to his long-suffering wife (Beverly D’Angelo), she reminds him of previous experiences with their argumentative parents, but Clark (Chevy Chase) counters, “Christmas is about resolving differences and seeing through the petty problems of family life.”

If we can start this at home, we stand a better chance of creating a ripple effect across our country. Real or fake, we’re in this together.

[Featured image from Coco Gone Global.]