In my experience, this is quite rarely the case. In fact, the truth in most families appears to be quite opposite: namely, the holiday season is the time that most people associate with their highest degrees of stress that highlights and exacerbates long-standing family conflicts and feuds. For every family where holiday arrangements are primarily a time of great joy and unity, there might be as many as ten times that many families where holidays generate annual arguments over whose turn it is to host (or not to host), whose families to visit in what order, and whom to invite. As often as not, hosting holiday parties involves keeping separate members of extended family who actually detest one another from coming to blows after drinking to much alcohol.
Instead of being the most peaceful time of year, the newspapers report that the holiday season is always the peak of suicides. In large part, that is probably related to two things in particular: (1) the increased stress associated with planning for the holidays and fulfilling the obligation to make all of one's holiday purchases, and (2) the extent to which the constant publicizing of holiday themes actually serves to increase and highlight the loneliness of many individuals who are significantly less happy than the media and general social expectations suggest everyone should be during the holidays.
But for the incessant harping on the holiday theme in the media, individuals who are not fortunate enough to have a loving family would feel no greater loneliness or despair in December than during any other month of the year. Unfortunately, many people who are perfectly content with their solitary lives the rest of the year are confronted with perpetual imagery and suggestions everywhere they turn that makes it all but impossible not to experience despair at their situation.
Similarly, the holiday season also happens to be the peak traffic frustration on the roads and in airports, not to mention also of fatal drunk driving accidents. Every year in the United States, more lives are needlessly lost to drunk driving in between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than during any other comparable period of time of the year. Because alcohol is prominently featured in office parties, it also tends to be the peak of sexual harassment complaints in the workplace.
Considering Alternative Approaches to Holiday Rituals
In principle, there is absolutely nothing "wrong" with the idea of giving gifts or getting together with families during the holidays. What became apparent to me waiting for almost an hour for a parking spot at the South Coast Mall was the degree to which any genuinely loving or giving spirit of the holiday season has been destroyed by the way that the concept of "the holidays" are approached in contemporary American society. By the time I finally got my spot, I had imagined a simple solution that would allow everyone to enjoy the holidays in the spirit in which they were originally conceived.
First, gift giving rituals should be limited to immediate family members and very close friends. With respect to anybody else, if they are not close enough friends or associates to bestow with spontaneous gifts at any other time of the year, they should not be on anyone's holiday shopping list. Incidentally, this "rule" should also apply to Valentine's Day": any woman whose significant other has not given her flowers all year should not accept them on February 14th just because the calendar denotes that day as the day that florists across the nation can charge double for roses. Any genuine sentiment associated with roses is cheapened by the ritualistic obligatory manner in which they are expected on the same day every year. Like presents in general, roses mean infinitely more as a surprise instead of as a national ritual
Finally, if society wishes to be sensitive or loving toward those who are not fortunate enough to have a family with whom to share the holidays, the solution is not to offer them token invitations to holiday get-togethers. Instead, the best way to express sensitivity to them would be to keep holidays a private family affair so that they were not so conspicuous and unavoidable that lonely people are more likely to kill themselves during the holidays than at any other time…