The holidays have begun and will continue in force for another month. That means a host of things, good and bad: nail-biting gift-shopping, a carousel of parties and dinners, and the ubiquitous and nearly unavoidable family gatherings.

It’s that last one that gives many a particular sense of dread, often promising some level of judgement, division, and bickering. It has its positives, too- the rich aromas wafting off of spiced homemade goods, getting to see family members after periods of separation, and the promise of of misguided but well-intentioned gifts from relatives.

In the end, however, it’s the gathering of many different perspectives that causes such division- narrow minded and wide open, wise or naive, liberal, conservative. These perspectives are, in turn, born of different experiences and interpretations of them. Everyone’s are different, based on the things they’ve seen, the news they read and its inherent slants, and the events and movements that they’ve lived through. 9/11 was a defining moment for many who were old enough to see it- it changed their relationship with security, travel, and the nation- yet everyone has a different memory and interpretation of it. These perspectives help make the person, and they’re integral to understanding others’ points of view.

So, interview your family members on what they’ve lived through, especially those from older generations. There are two major reasons. One, to help understand their opinions- not necessarily to agree with or support them- but to comprehend the experiences that produced them.

The second, of course, is their historical value. I know that most of you aren’t historians, but hear me out. In this day and age of electronic communication and transient websites, there’s no guarantee that all that’s been posted, emailed, or texted will be available, or even still exist, for historians to analyze. Those documents are often both ephemeral and private, so we risk having people’s memories and ideas about historical movements or events lost to the internet- especially those of people who lack a voice to state them to a larger public audience. By interviewing your family members and remembering their opinions, you take a step towards preserving those memories for future historians to document when they look back on these time periods. The elderly, I’m sure, would appreciate their family members taking the time to ask them about their memories in an effort to document them.

Some insightful questions might be:

  • What did you think about a certain trend or event?
  • Did you have a decided opinion on what that event’s outcome or effect would be?
  • Did you think you had any control in the outcome, or were you involved in a movement surrounding it?
  • How did it affect your relationship with your family/community/nation? Did it change any of your opinions about those things?
  • How have things changed in your household, in customs and family dynamics since you were a child/young adult? How do you feel about it, and why do you think it happened?

Talk to your family members about their experiences over the holidays. You might end up learning something about why they are the way that they are. And if you hear anything interesting, please feel free to post it in the Share Your Story section!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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