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11.28.2013

Holidays


This morning I was trying to remember Thanksgivings past. It's a big day, and it only happens once a year, so you'd assume they'd stick in one's mind. But I remember very few of them. I remember last year and the year before, because we had special guests. And I remember the Thanksgiving I celebrated in Scotland, because it was the first time I ever cooked something for the holiday myself, and because we were expats in an island of selective American tradition, desperately trying to find cornmeal in a Tesco (FYI: can't be done). I remember the first Thanksgiving I spent at my sister's house—the other guest was vegan, and the pumpkin pie boiled when it should have baked, and I liked stuffing for the first time and drank a Blue Moon.

But the Thanksgivings of my childhood, the ones I think of when I think about Thanksgiving, those I don't remember. They would have been at my Grandmother's house, and the extension would be in the table, and there would be candles, and then men would've had beer. Those Thanksgivings aren't memories; they're senses. They're all Thanksgiving. They're what Thanksgiving looks like when I close my eyes and picture the word. But the details of them, the things that make one different from the next, those are gone.

Part of this is just the fallibility of memory, but there's something else happening here that's more important. It's at the heart of holidays. It's about stepping out of time.

You know how the day after Christmas is always a little depressing? All the energies of the entire world seem to have been building up toward this one epic moment, and then it's over, and it won't happen again for another year. Some people are glad of this, but some of us actually like holidays. And for us, the aftermath is a little dismal. I think that's because we have so few holidays and we celebrate most of them so poorly. We have Thanksgiving (which is really about nothing but food—I mean, let's be honest), and Christmas/Hanukkah/Winterfest, and Easter, and the National Holiday (Independence Day, Bonifacio Day, fill-in-the-blank day). And we have birthdays. But we don't actually celebrate holidays as holy days*. And this is a problem.

Because holy days cause us to step outside of time and enter a different state. There's only one Christmas Day and only one Easter, and when we celebrate them, we are stepping out of our own time and into that single day of holiness. It is a time set apart. It is a different way of being.

So it makes sense not to remember the particularities of Christmas in '97, or Thanksgiving in '01. They're not meant to be particular. They're meant to be the same, because they're one Day. We feel loss when the day is over because we don't have regular rituals beyond these few. We really won't experience something like that again for a long, long while. If we had regular rituals, and not just the four-holiday ones, we would regularly be reminded of the thinness of time (a relevant theme for me at the moment)—that though we live in time, we are ruled by a creator who is outside of time.

This is the reason for following the church calendar, for observing saints' days and feast days and all the days we can. If our lives were marked by a continual pattern of outside-of-time days, we could step from one to the other without that sense of loss. And we wouldn't wonder why each one was hard to remember. Because we would be developing a different kind of memory.


*I am well aware that Thanksgiving and Independence Day and Winterfest (which I made up) are not actually Holy Days in any accurate sense of the word. But they are culturally holy days, and it makes some sense to conflate them as my point is how few holy days we really celebrate. We need more, and we need them to be actual Holy Days.
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