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Commentary: Holiday Drear

Now that it's the Holiday season, WFAE commentator Jean Roznik is thinking about family togetherness and the cheerfulness that's expected this time of year. She wonders if her family fits that image. Holidays bring a lot of pressure to be jolly. Check out the magazine at the grocery store checkout. They're full of amused people seated at elaborately laid tables, weighted down with glossily perfect food. There isn't an obnoxious in-law or a surly teenager to be seen. During a more impressionable period of my life I took these images to heart and put considerable effort into artful centerpieces and themed cupcakes. What I learned from my exertions was that, if you bake it they will definitely come, but the end result may not be a meal of dreams. Movies and television shows also add to our feelings of festive inadequacy. What we need to remember is that the people clinking glasses and looking so fetching in the candlelight are actors and actresses. Of course, conflict is often part of the storyline but usually it's neatly resolved before everyone sits down to eat. Then the camera pans the group, catching heads thrown back in laughter, people engrossed in stimulating conversation and much passing of designer serving dishes. In these tableaux there are no bores, no relatives making shockingly insensitive remarks and no strange side dishes involving Jello. I think the pressure to have the perfect holiday is more intense here than it was in my native Ireland, or even Canada, where I lived for 11 years. The Irish are a skeptical people. They know that family gatherings are more the stuff of disturbing literature than occasions of blissful togetherness. Canadians achieved independence without the hoopla of a revolution and they celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with similar efficiency. The decorations are nice and there's plenty of good food but no one gets too carried away. On the other hand, we in this country are more aspirational. I say "we" because I, and the rest of my family, have recently become US citizens. Our newfound status means the pursuit of happiness is no longer just a pleasant pipedream, it is now our obligation. While I hate to sound ungrateful, this new benefit has only added to my holiday anxiety. Pursuing happiness can be tiring, not to mention costly, and how do you even know when you're there? Is getting through dinner without any arguments sufficient or are we expected to hold hands and really crank out the endorphins? I honestly don't have all the answers. Then again, a little CPR or an arrest can really heighten an occasion.