Well, it’s that magical time of year again, the slog between Thanksgiving and Christmas where people — particularly baby boomers — wonder why everything seems so ridiculous when it’s supposed to be either festive fun or mystically religious.
I’m a boomer, and, like every other boomer, I feel glibly self important, but I also understand why we’re perceived as dinosaurs and lots of folks are anxiously awaiting the asteroid with our name on it.
Thanksgiving, for example, thankfully finished for another year, has evolved over the past half-century from the exercise in tradition wherein several iconic generations of a nuclear family surround a turkey carcass, blissfully posing for Norman Rockwell, to something far more complex: frequently a mirror of the messy times we live in, often ground zero for family squabbles reflecting our diversity of opinion on a wide range of politically charged topics.
A quick review of the self-help industrial complex that proliferates the season suggests our emotional well-being this time of year has the life expectancy of a plump Butterball (in Vermont, an organically raised, non-junkie, free ranger, painlessly dispatched fowl, lovingly produced to feed both body and soul). Many of us are already licking wounds, harboring grudges and anticipating the rest of the holidays with abject terror. What gives? How did things deteriorate to the point that maintaining our sanity has become number one on the holiday hit parade?
There are literally hundreds of theories why this is happening and, depending on the source, a few can be pretty entertaining on their own. Ranging from the largely fictionalized “War on Christmas,” the simplistic fear campaign initiated by conservatives to galvanize the malleable evangelical base; to “commercialization,” which we often forget was the objective of popularizing Christmas in the first place. But whichever argument you select, it’s woefully inadequate to quantify the entire phenomenon. That’s where the baby-boom generation comes in.
Although boomers may still be part of that inter-generational Rockwell portrait, the seating arrangements have changed markedly since they were feisty undergraduates, explaining in the nicest way possible, what idiots their parents and grandparents were. The painful realization that they have now become those elders and their progeny’s “OK Boomer” response from across the table is not an accolade, weighs heavily on the Woodstock psyche.
Our conflicts with the “Greatest Generation” were mostly defensive as I recall, reacting to parental objections over weird clothing, weird hair, anti-war protests, sexual liberation, pot smoking and all the rest. The current snafu finds millennials the ones in attack mode, laser focused on what they perceive is a world totally screwed up by their immediate forebears. The “OK boomer” meme has evolved from an initially lighthearted dig to a derogatory line in the sand, a not-so-veiled intimation that everything from climate change to unaffordable college to gun violence to poor job prospects can be attributed to the newest older generation.
Part of their issue is they feel we boomers think we’re special, which is pretty accurate, but also exactly what many boomers think of their younger critics. And even if boomers aren’t really special or unique in any way, we were certainly made to feel that way during our formative years, mainly because of how many of us there were.
Being children at the dawn of the media age meant our sheer numbers required attention from Madison Avenue and corporations from Mattel to Disney, developing advertising campaigns, toys (Hello, Barbie) and entertainment geared toward the future boomer consumer and the billions in revenue we unknowingly represented. We never realized we were considered a commodity in those post-war years, we were just kids being kids, which I think is at least part of the reason today’s holiday seasons feel wanting on so many levels: We’re no longer kids, and remembering our admittedly charmed childhoods, is an unacknowledged boomer bummer.
So here we are, poised for another run at the holidays, with 50-year-old memories burned into our collective hippocampus of being indulged, while coming to terms yet again with being adults and, as such, having the responsibility of indulging others. We now cook, clean, shop, plan, host, visit, etc., all during an increasingly darker and colder time of year, rendering most humans indistinguishable from mammals with enough good sense to crawl into a cave and go to sleep for several months.
But enlightenment — as devout Buddhists know — comes in a sudden flash that might take centuries to arrive. While we begin realizing how our own parents experienced the season: smiling through clinched teeth, orchestrating mandated holiday rituals requiring more fortitude and stamina than a wellspring of intrinsic, selfless “Cheer.” Suddenly, we can empathize, since we’re being victimized by adulthood ourselves, especially the part where our kids grumble about either their parents’ irrelevance, or how we’ve selfishly destroyed their world, hoarding wealth and living way longer than we should.
However convenient, these tropes are mostly myth: Boomers have actually donated generously and will transfer an estimated $36 trillion (with a T) when they are beamed elsewhere; apart from the conventional wisdom, they will not live exponentially longer than their own parents; and most are far from wealthy, with over 50% lacking sufficient funds for a retirement much beyond Social Security. And to be sure, there are just as many inaccurate assumptions about the (somewhat) younger generation and the plague on society they represent.
But, in the larger scheme of things, the Y generation aren’t kids any more either, some of them are pushing 40 with families of their own to indulge during the holidays. They’re probably beginning to wonder why it doesn’t seem quite as festive as it once did. Thanks to the self-esteem camps we sent them to, their future has become as clouded as ours, the reality of no longer being the center of the universe.
My condolences and welcome to the club.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.