Holidays by Preference

So with Thanksgiving coming up, I’ve been doing some thinking in good Unitarian fashion as to what holidays I would like to celebrate – which ones would I find personally meaningful, without relation to what the population at large celebrates? A friend was just telling me about how important “Gettysburg Address Day” is to him (did you know we just passed the 150th anniversary btw?), and I know people who celebrate internet holidays like Talk Like A Pirate Day, May 4th, and Picard Day.

I don’t know if you have been asked this, but when I was growing up a popular icebreaker question was “what is your favorite holiday?” – which always struck me as rather like “what is your favorite color?” from Monty Python, as I could never figure out how I would decide.

These days however, it’s quite clear to me. My favorite holiday is Beltane/May Day, which falls around May 1st, depending on how exactly you choose to celebrate. I would celebrate with a community bonfire (I remember great ones in Sweden) at sundown on the 30th, probably accompanied by singing and music and food. The next day, dressing up and celebrating the most perfect weather of the year with sunshine and a maypole would be awesome. I love the idea of that late spring celebration because that time of year feels like the whole Earth is celebrating after winter, so anything that fits in with that theme.

I’ve never felt much connection to Memorial Day as a holiday. It’s a nice day off, good for traveling, but I don’t feel much sense of it beyond another somewhat arbitrarily-placed day for grilling and being outdoors. So next around my wheel of the year is Midsummer, which I consider best celebrated by early-morning stargazing and watching the dawn, perhaps with a barbecue in the afternoon. Campfire singing is never amiss either. My house will probably have tiki torches or something (is there like a classier version of tiki torches?) because I really like the look of a yard lit with what are essentially big candles.

4th of July is another good one although after spending so much time in Europe I find American fireworks something of a let-down. It’s not a real fireworks show unless the streets are completely covered in firework detritus and everything is deserted the next morning from all the partying… However, I do like the opportunity to spend the entire afternoon and evening grilling and playing games with family and friends followed by a good long walk to the throng of other Americans for a community event in the dark.

I would celebrate the start of the harvest season the first weekend in August (or the last weekend in July, whichever is closest to Aug 1st), probably just with family and lots of corn and bread and summer produce foods. Sort of supplanting Labor Day, I guess, since Labor Day has always corresponded so much with the start of the school year that I haven’t felt like it was much of a chance to celebrate so much just as a day off from school or work. My friend Nate has a good old New England clambake family reunion around then every year, and I think that sounds like a great idea.

With everyone back from the summer and digging into a busy year, I don’t know how much time there would be to acknowledge the September Equinox, but I do like the idea of taking a moment to acknowledge the balance of day and night and the coming of winter. Maybe if I had people and means to celebrate this stuff with better, I would come to a better stance of whether I want to celebrate this one. Somehow early October feels like a better time for this acknowledgement, as a last gasp of summer, perhaps because after that winter chills start closing in.

I don’t know as much about Jewish holidays as I would like, but the idea of a Day of Atonement is an interesting idea to me – taking a whole day each year for the ideas of atonement and forgiveness. I like the ideas of a lot of the rituals and traditions in Judaism.

Although I’m not a fan of all the kitsch and commercialism and plastic spiders around Halloween, I do like the opportunity to dress up and to see what everyone comes up with for costumes. I like the meeting too of autumn produce and bare branches as a reminder of our productivity and transience. I think it’s also important to acknowledge those missing from the table – I like the idea of setting an empty place at the table and having a bit of a “feast” for the ancestors. The Rochester Unitarian church also uses that Sunday for a “memory tree” service, where they preach about death and loss and everyone has an opportunity to hang a photo or name of someone dead on the altar. This year they had a great sermon that was written as if by an undertaker, which was clever and amusing and very poignant.

Thanksgiving is a nice opportunity to open the doors to friends and feed them. While my family generally has the feast just with the residents of #505, the times when we’ve had over locals who while friends, perhaps aren’t as close as best friends, have been meaningful. I think it would be great to make a family tradition too, of making time to help feed other people, by volunteering with some food-oriented organization. I think it would be great to have some sort of tradition for the day after, too. Not sure what though.

Winter Solstice/Christmas is probably my second favorite holiday. I string them together because I have a lot of angst over this – the date of Christmas seems very arbitrary to me. I have yet to resolve this. Being raised in the US and Sweden, I certainly have a lot of connection to Christmas, with the tree and stockings and everything. But … celebrating on the solstice makes so much more sense to me.

How can I resolve this? Well, a good friend’s family celebrates the solstice every year with a “caroling party” that involves an entire room dedicated to delicious baked goods, another room with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer playing for the kids, and piano + carol singing for the adults. I always wish though that after enough singing in the living room, we could go do one round of carols outside. In any case, I believe this is a supplemental party to their traditional American Christmas celebration on the 25th. Seems like a reasonable solution to me.

I’m not a big fan of American New Year’s Eve either, I guess it tends to seem unnecessary to stay up until midnight just to see a new year – perhaps I’m just not a big enough drinker. But if one sets off sufficient fireworks as the Europeans do, it’s certainly worthwhile. And I do like my family’s tradition of an “Indolent Day” on the 1st. Pajamas and cuddly blankets are required, as little work is done as possible, and many computer games are played and books read.

I think I would also want to do a “burning bowl” ritual in early February or at the Spring Equinox too. The deep of winter in February seems like a good time to burn away unwanted things from the past year, and I am always in favor of a good blaze. Spring Equinox is a kind of icky time of year, as I’m aware with my birthday in early March, so I’m not sure what a good thing to do there would be. People do amaryllises at Christmas time don’t they? That always weirds me out – pointsettas are okay, but things with big colorful blooms like amaryllises just don’t seem right in December – so I think that would be a good thing to do around one of those same two dates. Can you “do” amaryllises later in the year like that?

This is leaving out birthdays from the year, but those are important to me too! It’s just that they’re not really my traditions, rather, what the birthday child wants to do.

And that brings us full circle.

So, which holidays would you celebrate? What important traditions do you have around them?

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