It is American Thanksgiving, which I will be calling Yanksgiving from now on, so that it is not confused with Canadian Thanksgiving (Canucksgiving). Americans started wishing me a Happy Yanksgiving about a week ago, which I found confusing. Everyone has been getting ready for Yanksgiving for weeks. They have been making Yanksgiving plans, mostly talking about food. OK, here is the part where I risk alienating readers and, if my editor was editing this, she would insert a comment right here like: “Can you soften this a bit? Most readers will not be able to relate.” That is the beauty/horror of a blog. There is no one to save me from myself. There is no one to tell me that perhaps I shouldn’t rant about how awesome it is to be childless or about my disdain for most major holidays. (This is my blog on disliking the holidays, more on being a baby-eater in a future blog. Stay tuned.) This is my blog. It is unedited and unplugged. I have one friend who texts me my grammatical errors after I post my blogs, but that’s about it. Other than that, I’m on my own and it’s getting crazy. I hear my editor’s voice in my head, warning me, and then shake it off and carry on anyway. I’m a bit of a honey badger when it comes to this blog.
This past week, we were welcoming a new batch of veterinary students to their oncology rotation and breaking the ice with introductions and a question: “What is your favorite holiday, and why?” I horrified everyone, who said either Yanksgiving or Christmas, or both, by saying that I don’t really care for either, but I think my birthday is pretty boss. I think that my colleagues now feel sorry for me and they would like to find a way to give me back a little Christmas magic. (Bah Humbug!) If I had to choose between Canucksgiving and Yanksgiving, I would say that I prefer Canucksgiving, because the Canadian edition is Thanksgiving-lite. It is more mellow, it is shorter, and it does not require a month-long lead up. There is less pressure on Canucksgiving. It is just about the harvest and being thankful and taking a Monday off in October. There is also no Pilgrim-Indian situation, which I appreciate. Also we don’t say Indian anymore in Canada.
This period in America, that starts just after Halloween and lasts until a week after New Year’s, is called “The Holidays”. Saying “The Holidays” is a bit of a misnomer, because people don’t take very many days off during this period. However, paradoxically, very little gets done during “The Holidays”, because it’s “The Holidays”. (Here comes some hard-core internet research to prove what I have always suspected to be fact. I love when this happens.) In America, there is no legal requirement to provide paid vacation time to employees and, even when people have paid vacation days, they rarely take them all. This is in contrast to our friends in Europe, where there is a legal requirement for a minimum of 20-30 paid vacation days off per year for all employees. And despite the fact that Americans put in more days and hours at work per year than anyone, the GDP per capita in America is not that different than France or Germany. I am no economist, but I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that this discrepancy in hours worked and comparable GDP is largely due to “The Holidays”.
Here is my interpretation of the situation. It’s a cycle. It starts in the summer. Holidays should have been taken, but weren’t. Now it’s Fall, people are feeling ripped off, burnt out and a bit entitled to work less due to extra hours put in over the summer. They hang in there for Halloween, which is joyous because it represents the start of the beginning of “The Holidays” and because there is candy and you can dress like a sexy Ebola aid worker. When the holidays come around, a lot of time on the clock is spent decorating, undecorating and redecorating the workplace for: Halloween; then General Fall motif (complete with fake deciduous leaves in the glorious colors of fall, which makes no sense in Florida); then Yanksgiving (Turkeys, Pilgrims, Indians, Turkeys in little pilgrim outfits, more fall leaves); then Christmas (complete with fake snow, and fake or real pine trees, which make even less sense in Florida). Then holiday-themed decoration selfies are taken, and the splendor of the holiday-themed work place is documented on Facebook. There are also tasks such as organizing secret Santas, finding unique and hilarious places and situations for the Elf on the Shelf (and documenting this on Facebook), and organizing/attending work Christmas parties. It’s a busy time. Somewhere in here, everyone gets lulled into a turkey-L-Tryptophan-induced haze that doesn’t wear off until the New Year. They will then spend the rest of the year trying to catch up and this results in not being able to take time off in the summer because it is too busy, and it all starts again. America, I’m begging you, please take some time off.
During “The Holidays” no one wants to be at work, but no one takes days off because they don’t want to look lazy and/or because of peer pressure and/or because they are saving their days off for the summer (but then they don’t take days off in the summer either). Also, taking days off when you know that everyone is goofing off seems like a total waste. It’s paradoxical. The work culture in American punishes the efficient and celebrates martyr culture. It fails to differentiate between physically being at work and actually getting work done. It’s a complete bastardization of the American work ethic, which is, frankly, a little tired. Adding to the insanity, we now have phones that tether our brains to work, even when we are at home or on vacation. There is an expectation that we either created or perpetuate, that emails are deserving of in an instant response because it is so nonintrusive to answer an email. So everyone should be checking their email every 8 minutes, regardless of where we are, what time it is, and whether or not we are on vacation. It’s truly crazy-making and there may be some co-dependency involved.
The line between work and not work has become blurry. Instead of trying to find work-life balance, I think we need to search for work-life difference, meaning that you can distinguish between the two. We are plugged in to both work (email) and not work (Facebook, Twitter) activities all the time. I have recently taken my work email off of my phone and I try (really hard) not to check work emails during evenings and weekends. Once you look into Pandora’s inbox, you are screwed. Whether you answer the emails or not, they will occupy the place in your mind that is supposed to be for not work. I have been off email cold turkey for about two weeks now and, although this is not quite long enough to be habit-forming, and I have fallen off of the e-wagon once or twice, I am happy to report that I feel lighter, happier, in control of my life and the world did not end without my instant email presence.
So this Hallowsgiving Eve, resolve to take some real time off, enjoy your family and friends without being distracted, unplug, have fun, and come back to work ready to tackle your overflowing inbox and the Valentine’s Day decorations.