Monday, February 6, 2017

Creating Holidays


Because movies and television are so much a part of our culture, and fictional characters are so real to us, we often quote them when we are looking for words of wisdom. 

In keeping with that strange habit, in the movie The Incredibles, which follows the lives of Mr. Incredible and his wife, Plastic Girl, after they have been exiled into a quotidian existence following several lawsuits against the "Supers" (humans with super human strength and/or abilities).  The government realizes that it can not continue to pay people who are injured when they are rescued by a Super, and the Supers are forced to live like the rest of us, hiding in plain sight.

Unfortunately, for the Supers, it's almost impossible, but also, Mr. Incredible made an enemy of a non-super, very special young man, who, perhaps, didn't have super-strength, or super-stretchy arms, but he was exceptionally creative and extraordinarily smart.  He grows up to develop products that make others "Super."  He calls himself "Syndrome", and Syndrome quips: "When everyone is Super, no one will be."

That's how I feel about holidays these days.  A holiday should be a celebration of a particularly meaningful event.  In our modern times, not only have we completely stripped our holidays of any real meaning, but we've commercialized all of them to the point that the only universally and accepted practice is the purchase of a *something* and the giving of a gift.

The problem is that we, now, have a holiday nearly every day of the year, but many of these days really mean nothing at all.

Take "Friendship Day", which is celebrated on July 30 by the United Nations.  Google had this to say about it: "The UN-Secretary General, Kofi Annan, announced Winnie the Pooh as the ambassador of friendship. United Nations celebrates International Friendship Day on July 30."

While I'm happy that Winnie the Pooh has finally gotten the recognition he deserves ....

Oh, wait.  I just had this hilarious thought of some future generation where the idea of Winnie the Pooh, as the Ambassador of Friendship, survives, and he becomes some Christ-like entity.  Myths of his birth are created, and Kofi Annan is remembered and celebrated as Pooh's Prophet and Disciple.  Kids get toys from the Pooh bear.  Honey cakes are served.  The Sacred Honey Pot becomes a lawn decoration, and bees become a sacred and protected species.  So, maybe not a bad thing??

Still, the idea that everyday is a holiday does exactly to days what Syndrome did to Supers.  "When every day is a holiday, none of them are."

Today we are inundated with so many days that we are supposed to be sending cards and/or gifts that I, personally, can't keep track.  In fact, I can't even remember birthdays these days.  My poor kids and grandkids are lucky if I send them a greeting on their birthdays. 

In February, we have two, mostly, observed days:  Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day. 

I don't, really, observe either one of them, but if I did, it would be the former, not the latter.  I know, that seems weird, right?

The thing is that Groundhog Day is actually steeped in something real, something tangible.  It's about the changing of the season and a prediction of when we can start to prepare for the growing time.  In our Agrarian past, people watched for signs of what was to come, and it was important -- life-and-death important -- to be able to observe and interpret the natural world.  Crops planted too early might be killed in an unexpected late frost.  Crops planted too late would never fully ripen. 

Groundhog Day is actually a historical observation.  In Northern European traditions, it is Imbolc (which is Greek meaning in milk, and would have been lambing season), also called Candlemas or observed as St. Bridget Day, and marks of the beginning of the Spring - not the first day of Spring (which is in March), but that time of the year when we can determine how much more winter we will have to endure, which would have been of paramount importance to farmers. 

The rhyme goes: 

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won't come again.

In the Christo-Pagan traditions, Candlemas is the day that Priests blessed and distributed candles (Candle Mass), and it's celebrated as a Day of Light. 

As a homesteader, someone who follows the signs of nature as a guide for every day things, like putting laundry on the line, holiday traditions that support that lifestyle are much more important, to me, than days of observation with the only goal being to share a gift. 

In fact, if we were going to really "celebrate" Groundhog Day in the tradition in which it was originally observed, wouldn't it be fun to get together with friends to mark the day?  Prepare a hearty soup and some crusty bread (because this time of year, it's all about soup, for me :)) - share a meal and do a thing. 

If the "Day be fair and bright", we could make candles, to get us through the rest of the dark winter.

If the "Day brings cloud and rain", we could make seed bombs or plant some seeds for cold-hardy vegetables.

I do think that we should have special days of observation, traditions that mark the days of the year as special for us, but it is important that we not end up with holiday fatigue, where we are constantly bombarded with "[fill in the blank] Day" and are expected to give flowers, cards or whatever ridiculous gift as some meaningless observation.

Making those days actually mean something, where we actually DO something to actually FEEL something about the day is actually a little harder than just buying a box of candy or sending a card, but it's worthwhile, I think, to decide what's important to us, keep the good stuff and jettison rest.  Kind of like, decluttering the calendar in the same way that the frugalistas recommend we declutter our closets. 

The cool thing about nature-based holiday traditions is that they aren't as rigid as a "[ _____ ] Day", where there's on calendar day of the year on which that tradition must be observed.  The nature-based holidays are fluid - like nature itself.  In fact, Imbolc, according to the Wikipedia article, while traditionally, celebrated on the first day of February, could actually be any day in the two week period before and after February 1.  The timing of the celebration depended on lots of variations - one being the blooming of the blackthorn.  I mean, how more "nature-based" can you get than that? 

For me, perhaps Imbolc could be celebrated as the first day we tap our maple trees.  Or it could be the day we boil our first batch of maple syrup. 

Or it could be some day around the beginning of February when we're all home, and I make a really awesome, hearty soup, and we spend the day melting down leftover bits and pieces of wax in a double-boiler on the woodstove to make new candles. 

Or if we're having a long stretch of bitter, cloudy, rainy (as opposed to snowy) days, it might indicate that winter is over, we could celebrate those dreary days by lighting all the rest of our candles (which we won't need anymore, right, because spring has arrived?), making a yummy, bright, sunny soup (yellow lentils or corn chowder, perhaps?), and planting some seeds. 

In the end, a holiday observation should be very personal, and we should take care to make our own traditions as specific to our own lives as we can with observations that are meaningful in speaking to the way we wish to live our lives.

I really like the melting of the candle-ends idea, though.  I mean, creating meaningful holiday traditions that incorporate reusing, recycling, and decluttering?  Can I get a Hoo-Rah for the win? 

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