After a comment on last night’s Glee episode and multiple conversations on Facebook over the past few days, we began the conversation in our house about holidays. Sitting here, stuck at home again on another snow/ice day, I posed the question, "As Americans, don’t we commercialize everything?" While this debate started regarding pending Valentine’s Day plans, it actually translates into more holidays than not. What I always find amusing in these conversations is that the historical fact or original tradition is somehow pushed aside to allow a condemnation of a practice that, for the most part, we all participate in.
I think the biggest difference in my home is that we tend toward making things for gifts and cards on a regular basis because I want my children growing up understanding the significance of each occasion. In that same spirit, they all each also learn the historical facts available regarding said celebrations. It is funny how when we get twisted about the "commercialization" we neglect the "factual inaccuracies" of the same days. While my church is part of the UCC, we embrace the culture and celebrations of all religions because many of us came to this church from being raised as something different altogether. Because of that, even though I am not Catholic, I celebrate Ash Wednesday and give up something for Lent. We discuss in class and service the real intention of this practice of sacrifice. I am glad my children understand this and have an opportunity for such enrichment. For example, in the last youth service trip Middle Monkeytook part in, they went to Washington D.C. to participate in a seminar on responsible sex education and to lobby Congress on this. They were joined by students from all 50 states and multiple denominations. Part of this was them getting to participate in and receive instruction on a Passover Seder with the Jewish students. This was a very powerful experience for her, helping her understand the history of Israel, solidifying her own faith search and bonded her with her Jewish friends. I believe each holiday, whether it is our own or not, provides these opportunities for each of us.
Think of that for a moment. Instead of lamenting the commercialization, why not becomes an ambassador for the intent?
Below I will give you a couple of examples of the historical information, how this translates in my home and how, where applicable, it is handled at our church. If just one thing inspires you to think differently of a holiday or possibly approaching a church you may belong to about celebrating in an alternative manner, I believe it would go a long way to wipe out the ignorance that so permeates our society about not just these occasions but how we look upon each other.
Valentine’s Day – This is the holiday that started this discussion. February has long been a month to celebrate romance from the Middle Ages, to Roman times onward to the Victorian times in which Valentine’s became more elaborate. The History channel has a great discussion regarding these traditions here if you would like to read more. In our home, we bake sweets, make cards and write letters for our "sweethearts." Often we celebrate for several days in advance, watching our favorite movies or reading our favorite poems. Last night we watched Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet. I never fail to feel so moved by phrases like:
"One fairer than my love? The all-seeing sun Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun."
(Act I Scene 2)
I am eternally grateful that such love of L-O-V-E has been inspiration for many a great literary work.
Halloween – This is one I always find a bit humorous when I get into debates with "Christians" that feel this is a satanic practice. That is completely and utterly false. While there is some belief that pagans celebrated the harvest by dressing in costume to scare away "demons" that came out at the end of summer, Celtics fashioned it to a festival meaning the end of summer. A more complete list of how these festivals have evolved over the years is found here. Our church celebrates the children’s trick or treating on the 31st, followed by All Saints Day in which we honor those that have left us and then the third day of this celebration is Dia de Los Muertos in which the children decorate goblets that are placed on the altars for their ancestors. Living in an area rich in Hispanic culture, I am glad my children have grown up learning about this practice, understanding it and even celebrating with their friends. While my cookie decorating is coming along, I am not yet to the point of being able to create such interesting sugar confections but I keep working on it.
Christmas and Easter – I lump these together because they are both debated as over commercialized and factually inaccurate. These are two dates that are simply false on the Christian calendar. Chosen by Roman Emperors to forge bonds between Christians and Pagans, each were intended to blend the customs of both into festivals that would overlap. (similarly, the books of the Bible chosen by in a way that was thought to be most effective to control the Christians as well as incorporate some Pagan traditions, but I digress). While I do not advocate everything on this site, this gives a good breakdown of how these Pagan customs were written into scripture.. [As a brief side note, the movie Agora does a great job of depicting how the hostility at this time between Pagans and Christians was tearing society apart all over the known world. In that context, you might be able to understand the reasoning behind what sometimes seems a ridiculous decision.]
Just as we know there is a great amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest December 25th was not in fact the birth of Christ, Easter is not the actual day of resurrection. Though as Christians we know that this holiday is calculated by the calendar (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox) and is traditionally depicted with rabbits and eggs, we persist in complaining about its commercialization. These traditional icons provide the closest and most obvious evidence of their Pagan counterpart as a fertility holiday (I mean how many people really think about the Christmas tree as Pagan?). What I would love to see is Christian churches advocate the study of historical documents (likely existing in the Vatican archives) and find the closest proximity to the actual birth of Jesus as well as the actual date of his crucifixion (which would have been part of public record and by which the actual date of the resurrection could be extrapolated). I recognize this will never happen. Corporate America relies on the income these holidays provide and the religions on the world rely on these fixed dates to organize the activates of their congregation. Still, it does make me get a bit inflamed when the debate rages about the "War on Christmas" starts every year. I want to scream "how about a war on facts?" Our church celebrates in the traditional way but also celebrates the Advent and talks about the historical significance and political nature of the times around the birth of Christ. For Easter, they also discuss and honor the Passover and discuss the history of the persecution of this time. In our house, we honor the birth of Jesus by having birthday cake on Christmas Eve (since this is the time our church chooses to celebrate as well) and we talk about the original Christmas story. On Christmas, we sit around our tree, which we try to decorate with handmade ornaments and exchange gifts. Each year, some of these are handmade, some are for "knowledge" and some are for joy. That can take many forms but often the cards, tags and paper are homemade/recycled/repurposed, the "knowledge" takes the form of leather bound literary classics and music and then a few something’s for each individual specific to them. I shop all year so I don’t have to get caught up in the shopping frenzy and as I have discussed at length, I strive to do so without the financial burden it would leave behind.
I could continue; the green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, the hypocrisy of Columbus Day, the factual inaccuracies of Thanksgiving and the creation of Groundhog Day and its much celebrated pageantry. I know there are a number of these incidences that can be listed and quite a few folks who will be very upset with me for pointing them out.
So that it is not subverted in any way, I would like to specifically state that my point here is this: We are in control of how we celebrate our lives and honor our holidays. Instead of being upset of the commercialization of things, be a living example of the truth. Have your friends to your table to feast and share stories, laugh and appreciate each other. That can happen any time of year on any occasion or no particular reason. Yes! You should love your "sweetheart" each and every day, but is there anything wrong with taking time out after the hectic holiday season that precede it to spend special time to honor and renew that bond? Just as you hopefully would on an anniversary? While I hope everyone celebrates their love every single day, the fact is most people get caught up in the day to day grind too often. I take it as a time to put on the breaks and say "you are so special to me and I am so glad you spend your life with me." If anything, I think the world could use a bit more of that in a world where precious gestures of peace and love seem to be fading.
Come on, who's with me?