Holidays- A reason to celebrate every Day!

I’ve always loved holidays. There’s something wonderful about setting aside the daily requirements of life and getting together with others to show appreciation for the good things. Some holidays are Rites of Passage: Weddings, Funerals, Graduations, celebrations of birth or someone entering a new Community. Others are cyclical, making the most of whatever the season is. When I was a kid we were blissfully that “everyone” wasn’t white, Christian, middle-class, and we included Christmas and Easter in our christmaspagent50sholidays. I think this may have contributed a great deal to the idea that a lot of the holidays that started as Christian celebrations of saints were “secular”.

September was “back to school”, big on pencils, books, and rulers along with falling leaves, those continued in October along with Globes and ships for Columbus Day, and toward the end of the month pumpkins, witches and blank cats for Halloween. In November there were more pumpkins and Pilgrims and turkeys for Thanksgiving, leading into the delirious pre Christmas chaos, where we painted trees, stockings, bells, and angels on the windows. January was bereft of holidays, so we made do with snowflakes and skis and skates, but in February there were pennies for Lincoln’s birthday, cherries for Washington’s, and of course, hearts for Valentines. This may have contributed to Groundhog’s Day passing with little notice. When you’re a kid, and especially in the 60s, winter meant snow, and a special kind of once-a-year play.  Irish or not, we put up shamrocks and leprecauns in March, Christian or not, we put up bunnies and eggs in April; May decorations were flags and flowers. Happily we got out of school the first week or so of June and didn’t go back until after Labor Day, but with Independence Day, I think we can imagine that the flag decorated most of the summer- along with the occasional firecracker.

As I got older, I started discovering the joys of lakes at Hannuka, and the craziness of Purim, and celebrations from all over the globe. America is a melting put, and it’s way too easy to want to include luminaria and piñatas from Mexico, krumkakes and Lucia wreaths from Scandinavia, crackers and plum pudding from England, and things that are pretty and fun from all the other cultures. In the guise of sharing multi-cultural experiences with my kids, I’d try to do them all. Every month had a new set of decorations including tablecloths and kitchen curtains.The kids said it was like growing up in a gift shop. I will admit that the food was the center of my holidays (although strange folklore and customs like “putzing” have great appeal as well). I have almost never met a cookie I didn’t like!

At the same time the neo-pagan movement was trying to define itself. I once heard Isaac Bonewitts give very brief version of the history of neo-paganism: In the 60s we insisted that it was a collection of lore preserved secretly through the ages, in the 70s we began to admit that we’d built it of bits and pieces that had survived, in the 80s we said that essentially we made it up, but it’s all true anyway, in the 90s there was a strong influx of family traditionalists saying “our part was passed down from the old times, that part wasn’t made up”. (Since I heard it in the 90s, that’s as far as it went.)

It this point we have Wiccans, no longer having to work so hard to prove that they aren’t Devil-worshiping, baby-eating, monsters, share the umbrella term of pagan with eclectic witches, heathens, and Paleo-pagans (pagans who try to reconstruct pagan practices from what has survived), and the more undifferentiated pagans like myself who live in a world animated by spirit and magick. But as I raised my kids I realized that they’d miss the traditions I’d enjoyed as a child. I knew how important knowing what was coming up in the season ahead is to kids. It gives you a handle to grab onto, to control the long seasonal cycles.

cover Divine CookiesI’d already collected many, many holiday recipes and adapted them with more pagan decorations, but I realized that as long as a kid sees his or her mother grabbing a cookbook whether it’s Jewish Cookies, or Italian Cookies, or Scandiavian Cookies, that just shows that they are part of a bigger community who share their culture. When a pagan mother used instead xeroxed pages stapled together, that would tell the child’s subconscious that theirs was a sub-culture, fringe, not as real as the others. At that time there were no pagan cookbooks- I know because I really looked! I decided to create a cookbook for those children and parents. I sent it to Llewellyn, but it didn’t fly there (although “coincidentally” the next year they put out the seasonal cookbook series written by their stable of authors), so started putting it out the way I didn’t like- in stapled copies, and bless all the folks who picked up copies at Pagan Pride Days, and other events at which I offered them. Since then I’ve discovered Lulu and put some in at least commercial paper-back editions.

I’d started building the files for “Cookies for the Eight Holidays’ back in the eighties, while I was still using the basic “Wiccan” template for paganism, falling for the theory that all paganism could be tucked into it by simply changing a few names or correspondences. As decades past and I learned more about various religions, folklore (and food), I left that behind, which is that book will probably never be produced. But I still collected as much folklore as I can about holidays all over the world. For example, at the end of March, in India for Holi they squirt each other with colored water, and throw colored powders at each other (I am left wondering how they used to make them before commercial sellers entered the scene, along with super-soakers). holiThat’s just not going to work up here in New England, at least not the colored water part, although I’d love to see how it would look with the powders if there had recently been a snowfall! Instead we have a lot of our pagan friends bringing in flowers shipped from down south or grown in hot-houses to celebrate the coming of Spring- at Imbolc or Ostara, when it’s too freaking cold for anything to bloom. Sure, let’s be happy about the returning light and warmth, but let’s also acknowledge what’s going on where we live. All holidays used to be local holidays!

Fast forward to the 21st century and social media, and I started to share my collected list of holidays a few years ago. I have bumped into people who share my passion. I have also discovered that as Mother used to say “pen and ink reject nothing”, the internet rejects less. When searching for holidays I find that some of the holidays people say are on one day are on another, and I REALLY hate passing on bad information! It’s hardly Snopes-worthy, but it’s embarrassing. Part of this is because many holidays are attached not to a “date” but to a “day of the week”. Everyone accepts that some days (like Easter or Mother’s Day) are attached to a day of the week. National holidays, like Memorial Day, are now attached to a day near a weekend so that people can make a “long weekend” of it. This is practical. Look at poor old Thanksgiving. Between being traditionally about getting together with family, and being attached to Thursday, people simply started taking the Friday off in order to get a four day holiday out of it. As folks still want to celebrate on Thanksgiving, so many people started traveling on Wednesdays that schools and many businesses just gave up on Wednesday and close. (Retailers recognize that once Thanksgiving has passed, even procrastinators will realize that Christmas shopping season has started and have also taken advantage.) We also have Awareness Weeks, (like Nurses Week) subdivided into different days (school nurses, operating room nurses, etc.). Those are attached to a day of the week. But unless you follow holidays as I do, you probably don’t realize how may holidays are “the first Tuesday of the first {full} week of X month).

Some holidays are clearly promotional, you can tell because they were created and are promoted by businesses, like Florida Strawberry or California Almond Growers (Oreo Cookie Day). I see these holidays as reminders to be grateful for the things we might otherwise take for granted. Others are days for awareness of horrible things we’d rather not think about like diseases, or bullying; as with the good things, being reminded of the problems that we don’t have is a cause for gratitude, as well as a reminder to try to help others who don’t have it as good as we do. In theory, if the President or a Governor signs a holiday into law recognizing the day, it should be something worth celebrating or noticing, however I know that there is a huge number of holidays in Massachusetts because in that state anyone can propose a law, and many schools do as a civics exercise. I’m also not sure that because it’s a holiday once that means it goes on forever- unless it captures the imagination of the public.

Some holidays celebrate people who’ve done something special (Sally Ride Day), some celebrate groups (Sierra club Day), some celebrate things people are passionate about (World Lindy Hop Day), there are a lot about food, which suits me fine (Cherry Dessert Day). (I will also reassure people that I do NOT celebrate every food holiday that goes by by trying some of that food!)

There are also holidays that are just silly- like Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th), or the less well known Blame Somebody Else Day (the first Friday the 13th of the year). Most people know about Friday the 13ths, and having it be on a weekday makes sense to them; I think there are more excuses than reasons for the timing. Both TV and the internet provide “bully pulpits” for getting your whacky ideas out there. Holidays like “Festivus, for the rest of us” (December 23) got their start from a Seinfeld episode. Something like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it’s done, these get tossed out into the group consciousness that is the web, and some stick and some don’t. There are also some holidays celebrated by other countries that I think worth mentioning (Australia’s Sorry Day). If I included all the world holidays not only would I spend even more time that I want to, but I’m sure people would be overwhelmed. I include a lot of holidays from our pagan past (Fontinalia) because they interest me, and after all, that’s where I started.

Many of the ancient holidays are difficult because older calendars were often lunar, or worse, lunar solar. Easter is typical of this, based as it was on both the story of the resurrection and Passover, it is figured as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal equinox. Many old holidays were based on lunar cycles. After all, if you were going to try to get a bunch of people to one place how else would you coordinated it other than “be there when the moon is full”, or at half, or quarter? The point behind most holidays is to create a confluence of people all getting excited about the same thing at the same time. You want to bring people together. These days people simply decide they want to have a celebration, and look for a place and time to have it that would be convenient for the people who would be interested. This means that some things I find on “holiday” sites are celebrations that happen sometime in a particular month, or sometimes simply a season. Given times as an SCA autocrat I’ve tried to find halls for events on a certain weekend, I think it may have to do with the availability of sites. We have a lot more options for letting people know it’s going to be earlier or later than our ancestors did! Current Hindu, Muslim, Chinese, and Jewish holidays all tend to hop around the “dates” based on lunar cycles. Even the most oblivious probably have noticed that Chinese New Year always starts on the new moon, and that Ramadan cycles through different months every year because of the way the Islamic calendar works. It seems to me rather rude to not keep track of them but it can be difficult for those not born to it. I remember one of Ælfwine’s co-workers explaining to him how the Hindu calendar made so much more sense because all the months had the same number of days. When he asked how they managed that she did admit that sometimes they had to squish two days into one 24 hour cycle. Now I just check the internet.

There are also some that I’m pretty sure are typos- where people like me, trying to pass along something fun, but who just get it wrong. For example Holidays and says that May 30th is Want a Flower Day, but since I can only find it on that one site, and it’s the same day as Water a Flower Day, which I can find on a dozen sites, I’m pretty sure “want a flower” is a typo.

Anyway, I do share the holidays on my facebook and livejournal pages. As far as I know I’m unique in including the next day’s holidays as well. I figure that if you want to go along with “wearing purple for peace” on May 16, you need to know when you get up in the morning. Or if you think Strawberries and Cream Day is the best excuse you can think of to have strawberries and cream, you’d better know the day before, so you can pick some up!

Anyway, since holidays are another of my passions, I thought maybe I should add them to my website.

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