In the US, the stretch of time between Thanksgiving and the New Year has become known as The Holidays.
This is probably a good idea; designating more specific labels such as
"Happy Thanksgiving! (which may insult Native Americans who don't see the invasion of their lands as a reason to be happy),
"Happy Hanukkah!" (which may make Jewish believers feel they are being thrown a bone, Hanukkah being a minor memorial which happens to fall near the Christian Christmas),
“Happy Malwid” ( a Muslim celebration of the birth of Mohammed that can fall in December but is not exactly well-known),
Mawlid in iraqi Kurdistan(Erbil) by Kushared
"Merry Christmas" (which can be seen as a hegemonic attempt to usurp the Pagan Winter Solstice), or
“Matunda ya Kwanza" (a West African feast whose celebration may seem an attempt to relate to American Blacks who may or may not have West African heritage) all leave someone out.
|Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Myers (above), 66th Air Base Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of the Military Equal Opportunity office, demonstrates a Kwanzaa ritual where she lights a candle in the Kinara.|
Anyway, happy holidays, while a bit weak, covers all these ethnic holidays plus any others that may have been overlooked. So in that spirit of inclusiveness, I write about the happy holiday season.
Starting with the November holiday of Thanksgiving, Americans begin to eat. There are traditional foods that must be cooked—the green bean casserole that only appears now is made and consumed—ham or turkey, or tofurky, is prepared and enjoyed.
What is strange is that most “happy holiday” foods are only eaten on the correct holiday. It’s as if a law was passed that cranberries are only for November and December, and that stuffing is forbidden except on two days a year. Most parts of the US have their own traditions, and most families have a menu that is unvarying.
|photo by Lupin|
My husband and I, though, are free from many of these proscriptions. He is Czech, so Thanksgiving to him is whatever turns up that day. We are vegetarians, so no turkey, and we don’t like soy-based meat substitutes, so we have fresh fish. No stuffing, of course, but we do have cranberries—not sweetened because of his diabetes and my strict avoidance of oversugared food. We eat potatoes because we both like them, along with salad, some green vegetables and no bread or rolls because of my gluten-avoidance. Needless to say, we aren’t the ideal guest at anyone’s Thanksgiving, so we celebrate at home. We are fine with that.
|salmon sushi...which we do not eat, as it can be dangerous, but it's pretty. photo by Blu3d at English Wikipedia|
During the run-up to Christmas, we avoid cookies, candies and eggnog, as you can imagine. I told one of my co-workers I don’t eat chocolate, and she flatly did not believe me. Well, we don’t. So we are not part of the fruitcake/zucchini bread/Christmas cookie exchanges. Like Nancy Reagan, we just say no.
|Fruitcake by Jonathunder|
The Christmas Eve meal is easy enough, as we go Czech for this one. Since American supermarkets don’t sell the European carp of Prague, we buy some nice fresh cod or salmon. The accompaniment is potato salad, which is a simple choice. No turkey, no ham, no scalloped potatoes or candied yams necessary. No pies, either.
|Stedrovecernim smazeny kapr s bramborovym salatem by Ludek|
|photo by User:Justinc|
In addition to eating, people exchange stuff during the holidays. Hostess presents, Hanukkah geld, Christmas presents ranging from underwear to cars—the range is wide. We go Czech again, taking flowers to our hostess and giving each other small gifts on Christmas Eve. On New Year’s Day, Czechs exchange little pigs for good luck, but we usually skip that.
Americans also travel like crazy during the holidays. Every year the newscasters interview people stuck in airports, standing next to their overturned cars on icy roads, caught in floods and tornadoes, and generally not traveling at all. We went to Europe for Christmas when my husband’s parents were still alive, but now stick close to home. Florida is a fine place to be for the holidays, as we don’t get slammed by much of any weather except heat and downpours.
Some people go to church during the holidays, or temple, or the mosque, or whatever they choose. Some go to the latest holiday blockbuster movie premiere, maybe “Star Wars: the Force Awakens.” Most people have a few days off from work and might go fishing, kayaking, or skiing (if they can find snow nearby).
But, like a thread that runs so true, the holidays in the US have one common theme that never fails: most people make an effort to be nicer during the holidays. You can get away with smiling at strangers, even in big cities; you can post lots of puppies and kittens on Facebook, along with photos of your family sitting in a food coma after a big meal; the Salvation Army still has bellringers and a big red kettle.
The holidays are, I think, mostly a kind of social celebration of the fact that winter is still upon us but each day is longer than the day before. It’s a time of hope in the middle of cold and darkness. It’s a time when people remember that we are all connected in many ways, and that we need each other.
|Stonehenge Winter Solstice by Mark Grant|
So here at the tail end of the holiday season, I’d like to say that I am thankful for all my social connections and all the ways my society has nurtured me throughout my life. I wish every reader “Happy Holidays!” and all the best in 2016, which is peeking around the corner at us!