It takes a village to raise a child. 

This is an old proverb with unknown origins. An NPR newsletter did some informal research in 2016 to find out if it came from Africa, as is commonly believed, and determined that, “We just don’t know.” 

However, regardless of where it originated, the concept behind it is universally understood. Which is that it takes many people to provide what kids need to grow, flourish and realize their dreams. It takes a village — or more to the specific point, a family. And this is the season of family.

Here in Happy Valley on Dec. 12, 2023 we are knee-deep – to use a form of measurement more commonly associated around here with corn – in the year-end holiday season. Assuming, of course, that you are using a Gregorian calendar. The joyous times of Advent, St. Nicholas Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanza, and others have all started or will start soon. 

The Winter Solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year – means that in 10 days our daylight will start getting longer instead of shorter. A reason that many cultures around the world celebrate the first day of winter as a time of rebirth. 

Then there is a holiday or two that feel the opposite of joyous – like Krampusnacht – which involves the chasing and frightening of supposedly naughty children. Krampus is the anti-Santa Claus, and his night is celebrated throughout Europe and here in the United States. 

Lastly, there is the popularized anti-commercial holiday of Festivus that was made famous in a classic “Seinfeld” episode. The humorous “Festivus for the Rest of Us” includes feats of strength and the airing of grievances.

And a common theme among all these celebrations is that you need a group of people to properly celebrate. A family. 

Now, the word “family” means many different things to different people. Whether that family is blood relatives, friends, neighbors, compatriots or any other people with whom we share connections, convictions or affiliations, a family is best defined by its members. Which will be different for everyone. But whatever those different connections are, at the end, family is of utmost importance. 

In our daily lives, and especially during this year-end holiday season, we are surrounded by the positive message of family. 

Of course, there’s the ubiquitous Hallmark Channel, which broadcasts family-oriented general entertainment programming – and a seemingly endless supply of holiday movies. All of which feature family dynamics of one sort or another. 

There’s an entire streaming service titled UP Faith & Family whose purpose is to “Make Any Room Your Family Room” by providing entertainment that’s safe for the whole family. 

Then there are the timeless classic holiday specials that speak to the importance of family. In “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Rudolph deals with dysfunction within his own family and friends, leaves and ultimately comes back to an even larger and greater family. 

In “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” the Grinch, who starts out with his only family being Max the dog, finds the true meaning of Christmas and gains an entire Whoville family. The last lines highlight just what the Grinch has gained: “Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we. Welcome, Christmas, while we stand…heart to heart… and hand in hand.”

However, for some of us, the willingness to create larger and greater family units, or any family unit at all, doesn’t come easy. This can manifest itself in an unwillingness to search out or ask for help. These are people who, when presented with the options to either look for help in their lives or go it alone, usually results in them going it alone. Choosing to do things yourself unless, and even up to the point where your own life is at stake.

English poet John Donne wrote these famous lines back in the 14th or 15th century:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, 
A part of the main.

But self-sufficiency and pride in the ability to take care of oneself are personal traits that are often held in high esteem in our culture. Many of us like to feel confident in our abilities to handle the things that life throws at us – physically, mentally, spiritually, financially, socially and in every other aspect of our lives. I know that I’m certainly guilty of this desire. On a personal-health level, I spent a number of years being reluctant to see a doctor. 

Except this type of being can be bad for you and others. As George Bailey learns in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” asking for help from others – God, family, friends – can be a lifesaver. On a more scientific level, studies show that parents who have access to social networks and supports report less parenting stress, and communities with strong formal and informal networks are associated with lower rates of child maltreatment. Having a larger “family” means better families. 

So, in this holiday season awash in the good-tidings of family, I would suggest that you enlarge your “family” if needed. Have physical issues? Get with a nurse, doctor, dentist, physical therapist, trainer, acupuncturist, massage therapist, chiropractor. Have mental issues? Get with a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, support group. Have spiritual issues? Get with a pastor, priest, spiritual director, rabbi, imam. Have financial issues? Get with an accountant, financial planner, credit union, broker. Use the formal and informal networks around you to give you the family you want and need.

Because, it may take a village to raise a child, but similarly to what Professor Albus Dumbledore said in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” I would, in this case, amend that original statement to this: It takes a family to raise an adult.

Happy Holidays!

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