Resolving to Rediscover Entertainment in the New Year


The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report urging that children under age two not be allowed to watch any shows on television, or on iPads, smartphones or computers. Among other reasons, the report notes that the noise and colors distract children from interacting with others and can lead to developmental delays. Some other studies have found that twelve-month-old children in the U.S. spend between one and two hours daily in front of a screen and that 60% of American households keep the television on all day. As a result, the study finds this “secondhand TV” prevents children from engaging with adults or concentrating fully on their own play.

It may be that most of us are not alarmed by “tube-nurtured” children because we think that what is happening is entertainment — innocent and pleasurable. Therefore, we don’t recognize the fact that the tube is replacing play and genuine entertainment created by children, families and communities. In fact, the word “entertainment” is derived from the Old French which meant “hold together.” Its essence is about relationships between people rather than people and “tubes.”

There is an interesting monograph first printed in 1928 titled “Baraboo 1850’s to 1860’s Pioneer Festivities.” It describes how people entertained themselves in the decade of the 1850’s in the small Wisconsin town of Baraboo. The monograph documents entertainments produced by the residents including:

  • Church gatherings and parties of all kinds.
  • Weddings followed by a feast that was open to all the villagers.
  • Fourth of July celebrations that went on all day and evening.
  • Christmas parties for friends and neighbors.
  • New Year’s day celebrated as a time of gift giving and calling on neighbors and friends.
  • Berrying parties and apple-bees where everyone joined together in forests and orchards.
  • Afternoon tea parties.
  • Quilting parties.
  • Evening parties when mothers would come together with their children at one of their homes. The children played and the women talked and sewed.
  • Evening parties in many homes that included “Kissing Games” — favorites with young folks.
  • Barn dances.
  • Kitchen dances.
  • Public dances of every kind, with local musicians providing the music.
  • Village gatherings to watch the dancing of Native Americans who still lived in the area.
  • Butcherings where animals were slaughtered and meat processed, followed by a large dinner and dancing.
  • Private parties where participation was limited to invited guests.
  • Parties when an entire family would surprise a friend by appearing at their house with a dinner to be shared by all.
  • Pound parties where everyone attending brought a pound of food to be shared with a poor family.
  • Donation parties held annually at most churches where donations were collected during a festive meal to be used as a major bonus for the minister.
  • Festivals throughout the community held frequently to raise money for good causes.
  • Singing fests of various kinds involving many talented members of the community.
  • Community plays involving many members of the town.
  • Spelling downs where villagers gathered to listen to children in spelling bees followed by sleigh rides and other entertainments.
  • Public debates in which villagers joined together to hear able orators. One debate continued for six evenings because of the high interest of local people.
  • Park festivities where public gatherings of every kind took place in the village

This is a history of entertainment, festivity and play that was produced by everyday people in so many ways that most days had at least one entertainment. People knew how to create activities that would be fun, inspiring, social and informative. In that sense they were capable of creating a community’s enjoyment.

In a “tube-focused” community, many people have lost the capacity to produce an enjoyable life. Instead they are consumers of commercial “entertainment.” And because so many of them have never engaged in creating and participating in entertainment, there’s no need for us to develop our talents. We pay to watch people with talent on a tube. And everyone knows that “tubing” has nothing to do with a festive life. Instead it is a sad retreat from the joy of using our abilities to celebrate each other by coming together in a thousand exciting, happy, supportive, friend-making, talent-displaying ways.

So, supposing your 2012 New Year’s resolutions included personal leadership in creating an enjoyable neighborhood. We can begin by recognizing that we still know how to celebrate weddings, birthdays, graduations and holidays with our relatives. The people of Baraboo in the 1850’s have created a community celebration menu for us to build upon. We can join together with our neighbors to have gardening, tea, quilting and book parties. We can open our houses of worship to all kinds of neighborhood celebrations. We can create opportunities to dance together, sing together, make music together and raise money together. We can join in enjoying the talents of our children and debates of public issues.

In all these ways, we can become a real community where we know everyone by name and experience their unique talents. Best of all, we can become real neighbors celebrating life together rather than living isolated lives in houses where electric tubes create a counterfeit life for us and our families.

~ John ~

Home page photo: familymwr

About the Lead Author

John McKnight
John McKnight
John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

The Latest

The Story of the Clouds and the Forests

There’s a story one often hears in conversations about systemic transformation that goes like this… We are headed in the...


More Articles Like This