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  •  Modern American holidays as a system (4+ / 0-)

    One of the most interesting seminars I took in grad school looked at structure of American Holidays without regard to their origin myths or religious/secular significance. Suddenly, they all made sense because they work as a system which guides us to mediate the tensions between community and family, natal family and extended family, and of course, gardening and eating. As the needs of our society have changed, so have the ways we celebrate our holidays. Halloween and Easter looked very different 75 years ago.

    Today for my family we have six holidays, plus the various "Hallmark Holidays" like Valentines Day or Mother's Day.

    There are big three at the end of the year: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Christmas and Halloween are almost exact structural opposites. Halloween: starts at dusk, is outside, involves kids in magical garb demanding treats so they won't be bad. Christmas: starts at dawn, involves a magical adult giving out gifts to children who are good. Halloween is all about the community while Christmas is about the nuclear family. The more you think about it, the more opposites you can come up with. They are mediated by Thanksgiving which focuses on the extended family. Each of these holidays is fraught with danger: The gift that is a disaster or that breaks or that was sold out; the fight with uncle Charlie over pumpkin pie; the risk of poison candy. Of the three, however, Thanksgiving is usually the least risky and most successful. This is just a very shallow surface look at what we spent a whole seminar on. But because of that seminar, I can celebrate these holidays with my kids and family without worrying about religious significance thereof.

    These holiday each have their counterpart in for my family in the Spring and early Summer. Easter is the toned down reflection of Halloween with morning egg hunts. The 4th is the complete inverse of Christmas but without the risks. These are mediated by, of all things, Memorial day, a day of parades, re-enactments, and the putting out of tomato plants and sowing of squash seeds.

    The spring/summer holidays are about gardening and community. The fall/winter holidays are about eating and family. Easter is roughly the time to start the tomato seeds indoors and also sow peas. Memorial Day is about the last day for frost in many parts of the country. And July 4th is the goal for the first corn on the cob, the earliest tomatoes from the garden and the last of the spring peas.

    The garden ties the spring and fall holidays together for us. Halloween is about the latest date for getting the summer bounty harvested. Some stuff, like kale, leeks and brussel sprouts are left in the garden but those just waiting for Thanksgiving. For decades now our traditional night before Thanksgiving dinner is leek and potato soup. Squash and brussel sprouts from the garden are always part of Thanksgiving. Christmas is about gardening, too, because that's when the seed catalogs start arriving along with all the other holiday catalogs. The seed catalogs get set aside for quiet January evenings by the fire, but I know that I can always count on a new pair of clippers or a watering can or gardening book or something from one of my siblings or kids or hubby.

    This is my own understanding of American holidays based on an Anthropology seminar many years ago. It works for us.

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