Social media is flooded this time of year with calls to be sensitive about Mother's Day. The holiday means a lot of things to a lot of people, some not positive at all. It can be painful because it reminds people of the children they don't have at all, or the children no longer with them. It's a day that makes some mothers sad because of how little their partners or grown children appreciate them, and others are sad because they can't share it with their own mothers. There are reminders to honor the labor of stepmothers who do all the work with a fraction of the acknowledgement. There are reminders to honor birth mothers, teachers, people who nurture without being parents.
The barrage of "have you shopped for mom?" emails and advertisements hit a lot of people right in the gut, not least because the purpose of the day, when it was invented, was to honor mothers by not risking their children in pointless wars. It wasn't a Hallmark holiday, it was a pacifist holiday.
There are pleas to be sensitive to people having a hard time on Father's Day too, but those are rarely about men suffering infertility or loss, or men whose fathers have died and can't guide them through the demands of fatherhood. Most often, the people having a hard time on Father's Day are people whose dads were absent or lousy. There are people who hate Father's Day because they have to send a grudging card to a person who made their young lives miserable, or because it reminds them of their own father's failures to nurture.
Mother's Day and Father's Day are when we set aside time to talk about how we imagine motherhood and fatherhood should be and how they really are. It's about gender and labor as much as parenting. These are the holidays where we measure it all together on social media and advertisements and magazine articles.
There's a story like that inside all the holidays people hate. Valentine's Day has accrued so much high-octane hatred that feeling personally attacked by it has as many traditions as celebrating it. That’s the day we all talk about romantic love and how poorly it fits into a well-ordered society. It's the day we talk about the wretchedness of desire, and how many of the functions of partnership are covered by our common social safety net — delivery food, jobs, internet porn — and how many aren't. Thanksgiving is the holiday where white people talk about appeasing their racist relatives and avoiding the honest discussions about racism they swore they’d have on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Christmas is the holiday where we talk about our feelings about living far away from our families, or close to them, and how much damn work it all is. Isn't that what we hate, when we hate these holidays? It's not hatred, exactly, it's just that the feelings start to press outward from our mouths and turn into think pieces or rants in the group text thread.
I'm making this point in reference to American holidays centered on Christianity because there is a different meaning in publicly complaining about the holidays of religions that are under more sinister attack. There are complaints about Hanukkah being forced into the mold of Christmas even though it's not such a big deal within Judaism. That seems to be the way we all talk about how it feels to be in a religious minority. Even though everyone’s the same, we’re also not all the same.
Does anyone complain about Easter? It never seems to dredge up painful feelings for anyone, and I suspect that's because it doesn't ask much of us, at least on a secular level. What is there to hate in it? Bunnies, chicks, resurrection. I suspect these things are only symbolically meaningful when our grocery stores stock fresh fruit and vegetables year round. Easter isn't the specific day we talk about anything that matters to us outside of religion.
Perhaps the only holidays we need are the holidays we hate.