November is beginning to wind down and I’ve already seen a lot of Facebook posts about having the house fully decorated for Christmas. If that’s you, I say, “Good for you!” I won’t put up my tree until just days before Christmas. I’m not being Grinch-y. I’m doing things the old-fashioned way, and for me, not rushing into Christmas makes the season last longer. I love anticipation. I don’t love hype.
I’m also starting to see posts about how we should all say “Merry Christmas” and not “Happy Holidays.” The implication is that to say “Happy Holidays” is to water down Christmas and therefore, to be less Christian. I’m a bit insulted by that.
I am saying “Happy Holidays” right now because Christmas isn’t here yet. Despite department stores piping in Jingle Bells the day after Halloween, the Christmas Season is December 25 through January 6, not November 1 through December 25 when it abruptly ends at 10 a.m. when the last present is unwrapped. Yeah, I will admit it. I hate the way most Americans celebrate Christmas. In general, this is something Europeans do better. Feel free to read the previous sentence again if you want and note that this is the only thing I think Europe does better. I’m not one of the misled people who buys into this notion that European society is so advanced, so open-minded, and so peaceful. Ha! But that’s a blog entry for another time.
Back on track…
I am saying “Happy Holidays” right now because for me, it isn’t Christmas yet. Christmas comes later, and so I will wish you a Merry Christmas when we get a little closer to December 25, and I will continue to say “Merry Christmas” until January 6. I’ll also throw in “Happy New Year” every now and then. Right now, however, we are simply beginning the holiday season, and so “Happy Holidays” is more appropriate as it encompasses more than just Christmas.
We have a lot of holiday stuff going on between now and Christmas. Thanksgiving—obviously—is only a few days away. Because of my mother-in-law’s condition, traveling is out of the question, and at the same time, I’m not comfortable hosting anything with her around. I’m okay with that when it comes to Thanksgiving. I’m keeping it very low key. My cousin, whom we all adore, will be our only guest.
Last Thanksgiving was our first big holiday after she fell and my father-in-law died. I made a point to set the table with their wedding china. My mother-in-law recognized it and said, “This is MY china. The embassy gave it to me as a wedding gift, and I saved it for you because you are Anthony’s wife.”
“I know. You gave it to me right after we moved into this house. Do you remember that?”
“Yes, and it looks beautiful. The table looks so beautiful.”
Honestly, my mother-in-law’s china is a little, um, ornate for my very plain WASP-y sensibilities, but I treasure it because I love that it was a wedding gift to her and my father-in-law from the Ecuadorean Embassy AND that she wanted me to have it because I married her older son. It’s an heirloom and I look forward to passing onto one of my children one day. That it sparked that moment of lucidity last Thanksgiving and an actual—albeit very short—conversation between the two of us is now a part of its history, what makes it dear to me. Yes, even a whole year ago, moments like that were rare.
This year, the day after Thanksgiving, I’m hosting a campfire party. I have decided that a true bonfire in my front yard probably isn’t the safest idea—especially with kids around. I can justify this entertaining because I imagine us all freezing our tushies off outside—and not in the house, making noise, and irritating Grandma.
I’m hoping this, like the wedding china at Thanksgiving, will become a holiday tradition.
Then, there is Advent, the four Sunday’s leading up to Christmas. If you follow a church calendar closely, you know most of December is the Advent Season, not the Christmas Season.
We will make our own Advent wreath. I have the candles and frame already. I just need to take the children into the woods to cut the greenery. We probably have a dozen or so species of evergreens on our property, and so past wreaths have been a real hodge-podge, and despite being put together by two small children and their craft-challenged mother, they’ve had a real rustic charm to them.
We will light a candle every Sunday before dinner and talk about how we are preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ and what that means for us. You see, I don’t think any holiday should just be one big party. I think we should reflect on what it means—and so, yes, if you are with me on the Fourth of July, please note that the fireworks come with a discussion on American history, and not a rush to the mall for a mid-summer clearance “event.” Yeah, don’t you love it when retailers use that word?
St. Nicholas’ Day is December 6. I’ll have the kids leave their shoes on the staircase on the evening of December 5. They will wake with a little candy in them. I didn’t grow up with this tradition, but I like it. I think it increases the anticipation that builds towards Christmas. I’d celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, too, if I weren’t sure that I would catch my daughter’s hair on fire.
And of course, right there in the middle of Christmas, we have New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I want to burn the old year in effigy on December 31. It’s an Ecuadorean custom and when I found out about it last year, I asked my husband, “Why haven’t we been doing this all along? I love it, and if ever a year ever needed burning, it is 2012!”
Weather prevented us from burning anything last New Year’s Eve. I’m optimistic, however, and so I am planning to burn this year in effigy. 2013 has been much better than 2012, but I’ll gladly burn it anyway.
New Year’s Day is about my traditions—or specifically my culinary culture as a southerner. I will be making hoppin’ john and collards. I may have to go into the neighboring county to shop because hamhock isn’t readily available at every grocery store in Maryland. Yeah, go figure.
And for the first time ever, I am looking forward to celebrating El Día de los Reyes (The Day of the Three Kings) on January 6. I have always observed Epiphany as the end of Christmas, but I love that Latin culture treats it as a genuine holiday. Think about it–the Kings or the Magi or the Wise Men—recognized the significances of the newborn Christ. These guys were not only gentiles, but they were probably the most educated and intellectual people of their time. What does that tell me? Jesus came to earth for everyone AND religion is NOT “the opium of the masses.” Smart people believe in God. I’m not saying that I haven’t met some brilliant atheists, but I really take issue with this silly idea that to have faith is to somehow be less intelligent or less educated. I’m always deeply offended by that nonsense. Like the bumper sticker says, “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” Wise women do, too.
Yes, and you see the way I have appropriated the traditions of other cultures to make them my own? You could make the case that all American culture is based on the appropriating of other traditions, but I prefer a more positive spin. It’s about appreciation, not theft.
So, when I say, “Happy Holidays,” I’m talking about this entire season and it IS more than just Christmas.
And sure, over the next several weeks, there will be holidays I don’t celebrate—Hanukkah, Bodhi, and Kwanzaa come to mind, but why wouldn’t I wish other people only the very best as they gather with their families and friends to engage in their own celebrations? It has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with just plain correctness.
Yeah, and I KNOW some of you reading this saw Kwanzaa, and immediately thought, “That’s a made up holiday.” Um, yes, it IS— in fact, ALL holidays, festivals, commemorations, rituals, and ceremonies were contrived by human beings. I think it’s one of those things that separates us from bears.
Of course, if you wish me a “Merry Christmas” today, I will politely thank you and wish you the same.