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Family Life in America

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, it’s a big family dinner with all the trimmings in which all the participants are openly delighted with one another. And they’re actually listening to one another. Where’s the strange uncle wearing the red MAGA hat? Where are the scowling teenagers? On the plus side, there isn’t any food on the plates yet, though there’s a big turkey at the far end of the table waiting to be carved. So perhaps there’s still time for the expression of discontent.

Martine and I both agreed that we liked Halloween better than Thanksgiving or Christmas. There was no need for any pretense of a closely-knit family. One just pretends to be someone else and pigs out on candy. Americans don’t do family well. We talk about it a lot, but most families at best have the appearance of an armed truce.

Read J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy or Tara Westover’s Educated to get an accurate picture of family life in America. Oh, I’m not saying that the disaffection is universal, just that it’s dismayingly prevalent.

It wasn’t that way for my own family: but, being Hungarians, we did not care that much for American holiday traditions. Except my brother and I really got into the Halloween sugar rush. We never had turkey for dinner in Cleveland, as both my father and I did not like it very much, and I still don’t. We usually had Christmas dinner with my aunt and uncle in Novelty, Ohio, but it was usually as much Hungarian as it was American. Come to think of it, back then we enjoyed the holidays without feeling in any way obliged to grin and bear it.

We now usually go out for Thanksgiving with friends. But over the last several years, Martine and I celebrate Christmas with home-cooked beef stew served with a Hungarian red wine, preferably Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger).

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