Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Holidays are different today

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By Ray Hanania

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When I was growing up, a phrase I am sure younger generations hate to hear is that I really enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The focus was on family, food and fun. Kids got time off from school, and our parents had time off from work. But instead of going on vacation, we got together and relaxed, enjoying what we had.

We spent a lot of time visiting our cousins, and they visited us. The kids played. Our dads and uncles sat in the front room and talked. Our moms and aunts were in the kitchen crafting the next big meal.

The television was usually turned off. Music would be playing in the background on the big Zenith stereo record player.

RayHanania

Ray Hanania

The focus of the holidays included big meals, but Christmas was also a time when we spent a lot of effort on getting ready for church. We had special clothes we wore. We wore our best shirts, suits and shoes, especially for Christmas, which wasn’t just one day but a weeklong series of church events that brought us together with other families that we knew.

My dad’s family was from Jerusalem and my mom’s family was from Bethlehem, but I don’t think that direct connection to the Holy Land is what fueled this really enjoyable gathering. It was shared by other families, our neighbors, whom we all knew, who were mostly from Europe and countries like Italy, Ireland and Russian provinces.

When I was a kid, we knew all of the neighbors. It wasn’t about gossip. It was about a friendly “Hello, how are you?” Neighbors looked after neighbors. If I got lost or had a problem, I could knock on any door and ask for help. And help was given.

There was a stack of different newspapers each day in our house. Sure, the headlines screamed controversy, but the most gruesome tragedies were tempered. They didn’t throw the blood into our faces, and our parents didn’t have to hide the front pages.

The number of newspapers actually created a competition that made news reporting so much more accurate, and fair. A newspaper that exaggerated a story or favored one side would stand out like a rotten apple, pushed by the better reporting of the others. The competition made the media better.

There were really only three TV stations back then. And the programs were filled with family fare, entertainment programs that crafted humor in a pleasurable way. True, a lot of them were Westerns in which Native Americans — Indians — were often poorly portrayed, even on a program like Andy of Mayberry.

Arabs were portrayed pretty badly, too. But all our neighbors knew us, and Hollywood’s hate didn’t translate immediately into hate in society. As kids, we could grab the bus at 89th and Jeffery for 12 cents all the way downtown to see the opening of the James Bond movie, “Dr. No,” at a theater on State Street.

My parents didn’t tell me to “watch out for strangers” or “avoid certain neighborhoods.” They did say, come home when the streetlights go on.

Rock ‘n roll music was in its infancy and risque song lyrics were censored when the songs were played, like in “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. Rock music began as a private experience with little plastic encased radios with batteries and earplugs.

There were only two rock radio stations — WLS and WCFL — and the focus were songs by the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, and a few others. The Rolling Stones didn’t quite hit until a few years after the Beatles arrived.

The real difference between then and now has to do with the insatiable thirst for profits.

The holidays were run by the families. We defined them as a community. Today, though, holidays are platforms for greed. It shifted from “gift-giving” to “buying.” Buying a lot. Giving less.

It’s not about the internet or social media, which is just a complex transformation of news and information delivery. Word of mouth. The telegram then the telephone. Neighbors chatting in the “gangway” between homes built close together, or from one front stoop to another. The transistor radio, television. Movie theaters.

What’s really changed is our attitudes and our priorities. Suburbs today are collectives of individual privacy. As a kid, I knew every neighbor by name. Today, I know maybe five. Friends who I used to talk to are now people on Facebook and Twitter where it is so easy for people to scream, yell and hate, because they are not looking you in the face, eye to eye. We used to see each other. Today we don’t.

Everyone wants “space.” Bigger. Faster. More extravagant. Not quality. It’s not about “family” anymore. Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about money.

(Ray Hanania is a former Chicago City Hall reporter and award-winning columnist. Visit hanania.com for more opinion.)

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