Writer Rebecca Solnit calls Christmas Day one of the 3 Punitive Holidays, the other being Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. Certainly seems like the Western world overdoes these with the result that those without formal traditions feel punished.
I am one of those without traditions by choice, even though I have access if I so desired. I could show up for gift-giving or a special meal at my non-traditional mother’s place but like many of us in the FQ, her home is for quiet time and so her holidays are calm and simple. My sister’s life is firmly in the Midwest where she has a fluid set of her own traditions with her friends and her son. And even though many wonderful friends invite me over to their own ramped-up holiday activities, for the most part I decline. It’s not that I don’t like to eat great food or to see people in a celebratory mood; it’s just that I like those made into everyday, informal activities.
I like regular days and organizing my days around drama-free activities and tasks, keeping my day open for impromptu meet ups with friends and acquaintances. Having coffee with pals in late morning or a cocktail and appetizers at the bar of a nearby restaurant or hotel in midweek is what I think is special. It’s why I like markets and not festivals: markets are a public and regular part of a week’s activities while most festivals are outsized events celebrating some cultural touchpoint that often requires hours away from home which often has a negative impact on regular commerce and far too often an extra fee for participation.
The only holiday I really celebrate is Carnival because the main activity (for locals) is to meet up and hang out with your friends and neighbors. In fact, the entire Carnival season, through customs built by families and neighborhoods, allows you to join in when and how it is convenient to your routine. Even the actual holiday of Fat Tuesday is mostly about roving, casual conviviality although, as befits the last day of a long season, it does have added costumes and a large amount of mood accelerants thrown in to pump it up a bit.
Most importantly, Mardi Gras has not (yet) been entirely taken over by the retail sector even though many attempts to scale that wall have been made. It is true that New Orleans’ Carnival has some deep, oligarchic tendencies – some of those hidden from view while others on full display without any irony or shame – but at its heart, Carnival is about regular people in public spaces employing satire and performance to comment and view others’ feelings on political power, class divides and cultural ties. That’s my kind of special time.
I think it’s high time we reduced the emphasis on Hallmark Holidays and use our creativity to instead create more everyday get-togethers. If people resisted the pull of these formal set-asides, more people would then start their day with anticipation upon remembering that it’s Saturday morning again. Or would take a long weekend off as a family to sit around and make a special meal together. Or send cards randomly to exclaim Happy Winter Day or to share your best hopes for a Bright Autumn. The third Tuesday of the month could become a simple gift exchange for your crowd or extended family. Use one’s gift-buying impulse to get some gloves or socks and share with those who are outside regularly. Use the kitchen time to prepare some treats or plates of food and share with those without. Marathon showings of movies on the shortest day of the year could still happen on those channels that seem to specialize in those. Close the stores early every 21st day. Wrap your homes in lights to celebrate the nearby high-school spirit. Have a block party on election day. Or just be in silence and quiet reflecting on the specialness of the world around us.
In these ways. we can use those warm feelings that we seem to only reserve for our fellow man on certain holidays, year round instead.
So happy Sunday everyone.