Every year at this time, although I am Jewish, I rent National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and howl with laughter. It's not that I can relate to family-man Clark Griswald's botched struggle to put a zillion glowing lights on his roof. I've also never had a XMAS tree, no less one that accidentally electrocuted my cat. My long-lost brother visits but not unannounced in a broken-down trailer.
What I can relate to is Clark's heartfelt desire to create the perfect home for the holidays. Yet (despite all the cleaning, fixing and fussing) as my grandfather use to say, "People are the most important furniture in the room." Especially during holiday times, is it possible to create rooms that encourage us to gather, allow us to ‘escape,' and may even help heal old wounds?
In my book, Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places, I discuss ways our home's layout, style, furniture and special objects constitute a "hidden dimension"(1) that influences our interaction with others and affects our own sense of well-being. During special occasions, our choice of rooms for overnight guests, seating arrangements, special plates, menorahs, mistletoe, etc. subtly, non-verbally ‘speak' to and can influence the family dynamic.
Following tradition can be great but, life changes. Thus, it's important to create holiday gathering space based on your real, not fantasy family. Pause and think:
1) Hall, Edwin T., The Hidden Dimension. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
2) Bestler, Karlie, "Statistics Show Single Parenting on the Rise," Single Mother Resources (online), 2010.
3) Grier, Peter, "2010 Census Results: Why did US population growth slow?"Christian Science Monitor (online), December 21, 2010.
4) Pew Social Trends Staff, "The Return of Multi-Generational Family Households," Pew Research Center (online), March 18, 2010.
Copyright Toby Israel, 2010