It was always something to look forward to: going every third year to America for Christmas, with my wife and kids, celebrating the holiday with my sweet parents. But now I have mixed feelings.
I have been living in the Netherlands 16 years now, but I have deep roots in the United States. Not only was I born there, but our three children were born there as well. I want them to see and experience the country. It is a part of me that I want to share with them. I am so old-fashioned that I even want them to be proud of their country of birth, even though they have become completely Dutch. They want to register as voters this Christmas vacation, now that all three are adults, so they can vote in the American elections next year.
But what do they experience? We fly to Chicago, and have to stay overnight in Washington, where I went to college. That’s because we could find the cheapest tickets with a 21-hour layover in Washington. I thought it would be nice to see the monuments at night and admire the lit Christmas tree at the White House.
But Washington does not have the allure it once had. It is, especially after this week, the model of political powerlessness, a symbol of the lack of moral standards and the division that subdues America. In what way does American democracy still inspire us?
Waste and Excesses
On top of the lack of Washington’s allure is the enormous consumerism around Christmas. Unfortunately, Holland is starting to increasingly resemble America in that respect, but Americans still outdo themselves. The average American will spend a whopping $920 on Christmas presents this year. We don’t do that, even though we put plenty of presents under the Christmas tree.
I am increasingly troubled by the waste and excesses of consumerism, even though I take part in it. From the perspective of climate change, that should not happen any longer.
Such a lavish holiday takes place in the context of increased inequality in American society. Over the last few years, there is even a decline in life expectancy, caused by, among other factors, drug addiction.
The feeling of powerlessness due to a lack of a hopeful future perspective has increased.
A Dutch-born doctor recently told me that most people in his American practice are worried about being able to pay for the higher education of their children or whether they can find decent and affordable health insurance, and whether they will have sufficient income after their retirement. Freedom may be the life slogan of Americans, but there is little certainty.
I have become increasingly alienated from my country of birth over the years and I actually have no confidence anymore in a good future for America, even though I do still hope for that.
Generosity and Involvement
Yet, I find comfort in two things. Firstly, there is still much beauty to be found in America. And I am talking about the people there as well. They are reputedly superficial, but it is my experience that they are really good at seeking emotional connections with others (if they can find the time for it). And Christmas brings out the best in them: generosity and involvement for family and sometimes also for strangers.
And besides, I still see America, despite my skepticism over flag-waving and patriotism, as a noble aspiration; that a nation wants to set the right example and work selflessly and energetically for a better world. I want to believe in that.
But people and states and the societies they create are fallible and often disappoint. The American priest Fleming Rutledge links this to the spirit of Christmas. It is not our events or achievements that bring salvation in this world, but the light for the world from an unexpected angle.