I am always conflicted when it comes to holidays. It may be in part due to the historian in me. I’m always poking into closets and behind the curtains to see what there is to know about origins and metamorphosis. Consequently, I often find the unpleasant aspects of things we have learned to cherish. A few examples might be appropriate.
Christmas is not about the birth of Christ. The celebrations that the human species have established during the winter solstice are varied and have changed and morphed throughout the millennia. These celebrations usually centered on the return of longer days, the change in seasons. December 25th (or so) is the date that the sun has returned a full degree into the sky and all the priests knew it was “coming back,” although a long winter may still be in the offing. Christians used a time of celebrations and gift giving to allow the open celebration of the coming of Christ. Jesus, you see, was actually born in the spring.
Easter. I think my awakening on this account came the year I realized I was celebrating a risen Savior nearly a full month before the Passover. Ummm, wait a minute. Isn’t it supposed to be, Last Supper, Night of Passing the Buck, Crucifixion, burial, missing body. How could the calendar get so jumbled up this was all in reverse mode? That would be because Easter, as it is celebrated in the Western World, has little to do with Passover. It is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. It is the ancient fertility festival of planting, new life and the hearts of young men and women. Oh, and ham would have been the LAST thing on the mind of a cook for a Passover meal.
I try to ignore Columbus Day as much as I can, usually referring to it as Yellow-Fever Day. Sorry, but Columbus did not discover America (lots of people were here already and Europeans and Asians had been making the trip for centuries). His arrival was, however, the spark that led to centuries of slavery and systematic eradication of native culture and history. And natives.
So, full circle and here we are at Thanksgiving. Pilgrims and “Indians,” lots of food and wonderful harvest and all that. Except that it wasn’t. The very first Thanksgiving was the celebration of a massacre sparked by the death of one individual. It’s not terribly clear what he died of. In many ways the holiday is quite offensive to Native Americans. By some twist of strange psychology I know this and accept this but still see great value in the focus of the holiday. Perhaps it’s because for me the origins provide an even deeper reason to stop, contemplate and share.
The holidays are a very stressful season and usually open wide familial wounds and conflicts. It is evidently not true that suicides and depression increase during this time of year, (NYU Langone Medical) If there are any issues it is with the “Winter Blues.” But there is still stress. I have, in years past, found my own way of seeking peace on this day of reflection. Perhaps, in part, because I know that good fortune is sometimes at the cost of another’s loss.
Some years ago I was one of the founders and operators of a private retreat property in Montana. It was our practice to open our doors on major holidays to anyone and everyone that would come. It was not necessary to bring anything, just come. I would cook for 2, sometimes 3 days to prepare for the event and we would end up borrowing dishes and utensils from all over the place. I remember one Thanksgiving when we managed to convince a Viet Nam veteran to visit. He braved the encounter and by the end of the day he was the favorite uncle of all the younger children. A substitute family, but one that brought him joy. You see, that is what Thanksgiving means to me.
Visit a neighbor, a friend, a family member. Avoid the stores at all costs. If you eat out think of some way to thank those who gave up their holiday to serve you. Find a way to support those in America with far less. Maybe add to a local food bank as millions of Americans see a cut in their food stamp support. Smile, hug, hold a door open. Stop, for just one day and appreciate what you have and seek ways to share it. There is always someone else with less, someone who paid for your bounty.