“Holidays aren’t just about feasting and fun”
Holidays are serious matters. The Jewish high holidays are underway this fall. Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) was on September 20-22. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) took place on September 29-30; Sukkot (called the Time of Rejoicing) has run from October 4th to 11th.
The quote I used at the top was spoken by a good friend of mine some years ago. They were tired of people around them looking forward eagerly to Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas gifts, and New Year’s Eve parties.
They had a good point. America followed by other countries has fashioned holidays to wrap around weekends (usually a Monday) so people get a longer weekend and an additional day off. Presidents Day used to be two different holidays: Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday. The complex history of those two birthdays as holidays is fascinating to read. A helpful link is here: http://www.snopes.com/holidays/presidents/presidentsday.asp
I grew up in Northern New England and I recall as a child celebrating a holiday called Patriots Day that was only recognized in Maine and Massachusetts. Patriots Day was itself a compromise between two cities in Massachusetts who each wanted their roles in the War of Independence recognized. Concord and Lexington were disappointed that ‘their’ day had been combined into a more general holiday.
Patriots Day itself was created out of an even older holiday called “Fast Day” in New England. This particular ‘holiday’ begin in the late 1600’s as a religious day of fasting, repentance, and preparation for planting crops. Fast Day had lost much of its appeal because people wanted to celebrate rather than fast and pray. Fast Day was replaced by Patriots Day in Massachusetts and Maine around 1894. It reminded a holiday in New Hampshire (“Live Free or Die”) until 1991 as the start of the summer tourist season (and hence the opportunity to happily relieve tourists from Massachusetts and especially New York of their money).
Holidays aren’t just for fun. At their core, they remind us of important cultural, religious or historical events. We are asked to stop and reflect on events like Jesus’ birth or the Buddha’s enlightenment or generosity at Thanksgiving.
This is also true about Columbus Day. Many people would prefer it changed to “Indigenous Peoples Day” to honor those who through no fault of their own were swept aside by adventurers and fortune-seekers. Disease and warfare nearly destroyed the American Indian nations; Australian aboriginals still seek full equality and reparation for the lands stolen from them. Other aboriginal peoples find themselves still pushed aside for resources or other reasons.
Now, we come into the season of multiple holidays: Halloween, All Souls Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, the Solstice and many other holidays compete for attention. We will likely consider trips, feasting, football, and shopping trips to be central focus points for the next three months.
Let us also pause at each of these holidays and remind ourselves what each holiday really means. Christmas is the official birthday of a man who changed the world with his words and deeds. Jesus deserves a time of respectful silence. Thanksgiving (in the US) is a reminder of generosity and gratitude passed down from those same New Englanders who loved the idea of a Fast Day to keep everyone humble.
This year has been a difficult one for us in America and the world. I hope we can pause each holiday and turn off all our electronic media for at least an hour to share a meal, tell stories about Thanksgivings past, admire the Christmas Eve, reflect on the ideals of Kwanzaa, and prepare for the New Year. One hour…that’s all. One hour to remember the real meanings of the holidays we celebrate.