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Happy (insert holiday here)

by on October 31, 2016

                                              Happy (insert holiday here)

                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

“April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.” Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894

All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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Very early on I took great interest in etymology, the derivation of words.  I was not surprised to learn that holiday derived from holy day, religion pervading so much of our lives. About that same time some kids asked me how we celebrated Thanksgiving in Italy.  I did not then know that just about every agrarian society had a harvest festival of some kind.  I also did not know how it was done in Italy, but for different reasons.  Born in the midst of WWII and living there into its aftermath, I knew only that the locusts (Germans) stole everything they could get their hands on including food, medicine, blankets, and even women’s wedding rings.  The “deliverance” by the incoming Allied forces did little to mitigate the problem as they “bought” (appropriated) local food for themselves.  I’ve had lifelong consequences.  And, no, I don’t remember any glut fest. So, I told the kids we stuffed a turkey with spaghetti. Some people believe anything.

I also found it interesting that when naming a holiday in a greeting there are rules: Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving are preceded by Happy; Christmas is preceded by Merry. An Illegal, a foreign intelligence officer inserted into the U.S., must remember this distinction as saying Happy Christmas might draw unwanted attention.  What is it saying that Halloween, an opportunity for deceit and extortion, is quickly becoming America’s favorite holiday?

I also learned that America has a long tradition of blurring the line between secular and religious celebrations.  One demonstrates the “Christmas spirit” by near bankrupting one’s self in the mercantile race for the approval of others. My family was never drawn in much by gift giving.  This was fine with me; while other boys were unwrapping their presents I was unwrapping their sisters.   

Of course, ultra-conservative politicians have merrily plunged into utterly unfounded rhetoric about the “War on Christmas”. This dog whistle is heard sharply by xenophobic fundamentalists who reject anything differing from their concept of a Northern European looking Jesus who founded the U.S. on their version of Christian principles, a Jesus who points a finger accusingly at the United Nations building in New York.  “Religious freedom” means you are free to practice their religion.  

Although I’m aware of the solstice ceremonies pre-dating the Christmas ritual by thousands of years – the latter (Christmas) being retro-dated on the calendar to absorb the former, I’m fine with Christmas itself even with all its edits, deletions, additions, and myths. I don’t get offended when greeted with Merry Christmas.  But the fundamentalists can’t let it stop there.  A few years ago I went with a neighbor to the 4th of July celebration held in the town square of the small. ultra-conservative town we live near just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia.  It was to be a celebration of Independence and all the wonderful freedoms Americans enjoy. The centerpiece of the square is the courthouse at which Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt was shot and crippled for life. His magazine regularly published articles exposing American policies and practices curbing personal freedom in the U.S. and around the world.

A very large crowd was in attendance as ceremonies got off to the usual start: high school kids dressed up as a military honor guard, canned drum and fife music, and flags held defiantly toward a sky which showed no interest.  A young lady yodeled the national anthem, people stood and held their hands over their pacemakers,  and Chinese lawn chairs from Wal-Mart brought from home scraped the pavement as patriots in variously emblazoned hats sank into their seats while grandchildren looked in vain for anything of interest.

As the mayor held forth, Americana became momentarily timeless.  That Lexus parked just in sight became a coach and two, the VW a buckboard and tired mule, young adults eyeing each other were surely anticipating the coming barn dance. And then it happened.

The mayor turned the podium over to the minister of the largest congregation in the area. Audience affect immediately changed from vibrant and interested to pious and subdued, a talent honed by many in a society which is religious one or maybe one and a half days a week and cut-throat mercantile the rest.  Caps were doffed, heads were bowed, nasal oxygen tubes adjusted. After invoking the attention of his favorite deity, he embarked on a frothy condemnation of those “un-Christians who would destroy our way of life and surely burn in Hell.”

My memory flashed to a funeral I had recently attended for a young man whose father was Christian and mother Vietnamese Buddhist.  Being much closer to the mother’s side of the family, I sat with them as the Christian minister excoriated them and told them they would burn in Hell.  The Buddhist monks stood passively by until their turn to carry out their function. I wondered if the minister knew that the conclusion of the ceremony would be the monks guiding the mother to the cremation retort where she would turn the switch to cremate her son.

Refocusing on the 4th of July event, I was appalled and offended at a political event, the celebration of a successful secession from a tyrannical British monarchy, turned into a Come to Jesus tent revival. And so, with Larry Flynt in mind, I quietly left.

But in some situations it is not as easy to just leave.  Family get togethers can be problematic for people of principle.  My daughter’s mother and I divorced when my daughter was almost 4 years old.  I was spared direct participation in the Swedish/Norwegian Lutheran celebrations her mother attended.  But when I had my daughter at Christmas I decided to make it meaningful in her life.  I planted a Norfolk Island pine in my backyard and explained to my daughter that instead of killing a tree for Christmas we would celebrate and give to our tree, which we did by my holding a fertilizer spike – an 8″ cone of hardened fertilizer, as she hammered it into the soil at the base of the tree. We also prepared special meals for all our companion animals and gave them toys – or apples for the horses. This seemed to become very meaningful for her. Of course, I had no control over the rituals she would have to attend on her return, but deep feelings have more power than shallow acts.

Throughout my teaching career students have asked how I navigate in social settings with religious overtones.  If I can avoid them, I don’t go.  Ironically, my first real test of this came in my first year of full time teaching.  The college president, an ardent fundamentalist presiding over a State institution, mandated faculty attendance at graduation ceremonies.  Donning the robe and hood was no problem but the ceremony began with a “Benediction” by a local evangelist. I found it offensive and in violation of basic principles of higher education.  I also wanted to keep the job, at least for a while, as it provided an excellent legend. I was “saved” by a fellow faculty member who was Chairperson of the regional American Civil Liberties Union.  He threatened to sue the college and the president for making attendance at a religious event a condition of employment.  It worked.  I attended only the first event and still received tenure some time later.

But we can’t really threaten to sue our families and friends, can we?  I’m guessing we’ve all heard the saying, You can choose your friends but not your family.  (Please, let’s not go into the stuff about floating in the pre-born ether and choosing a birth family for the lessons we will learn).  Besides, that old saying is only partially true.  One marries a spouse for who that person is. Sometimes that means navigating in an in-law family that would not be of one’s choosing.

I like to suggest that when people find themselves in uncomfortable familial settings, by birth or by marriage, they ask themselves, “Would I be with these people if they were not family?” In either case, if the answer is no there are indications that interactions must be examined and negotiated to the extent of one’s tolerance. “Domestic tranquility” is not free.  Having it all your way can mean you are quite alone. If you are fine with that, then so be it.  If other factors outweigh such an option, one should do a cost/benefit analysis and accept the results. 

I’m a pretty tolerant person.  Just don’t ask me to say Grace.

 

 

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18 Comments
  1. Gary permalink

    Do I take from this you looked through Hustler for the essays?

    I find myself annoyed also when some event that really has nothing to do with God and Jesus gets turned over to the Protestant minister of the day for religious incantations. I have made it a habit to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies every November 11, which being held in Canada, is normally a crappy weather day, cold, rainy, and windy, and, of course, the services are held outdoors at the local war monument. The uncomfortable weather pales however to the irritated, squirmy sensation I get when the god guy gets his say. I am always thinking, where was this god in 1918 and 1945?

  2. Thanks, Gary. Actually, I preferred Playboy but did see a couple of Hustler issues. One that still stands out covered the Viet Nam photographs no one else would publish.

    Excellent point on Remembrance Day. I still don’t get it when the god folks get on their platform.

  3. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Thank you, Marco! This is wonderful and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. I appreciate it so much that I will refrain from mentioning pre-life planning! 🙂 I am glad you walked out of the 4th of July Celebration and only had to attend one graduation ceremony. I know that I do my best not to destroy anyone’s way of life. I believe Christians try to destroy others ways of life by insisting we all believe as they do. I see no love in that. It was difficult for me to keep from crying as I read about the funeral. Obviously, that pastor does not know the depth of pain that poor mother was in. I regret how I handled John’s memorial service. I had not attended church in awhile as I was in the process of leaving Christianity and to placate family and friends, I had the memorial service at the church I had previously attended. In hind site I would have had a small gathering in the woods by the river or by the Lake. That is much more appropriate for John. At the end of the service the pastor said that if John could, he would tell us that it is not worth it and we need to accept Jesus to go to heaven. It took all my will power to not stand up and start screaming “No, that is not what my son would say!” I really regret that. I no longer attend family holiday celebrations or any family celebrations of any kind. I am so much happier with that! – Michelle

    Thank you, Marco! This was great! I think people need to realize that Source does not care if we celebrate these holidays or not. Source did not create them or demand they be celebrated. Please do not cite antiquated religious texts, everyone! We have imposed these burdens upon ourselves. As for my memorial service, my mom is correct that a gathering in nature is more suited for me; however, it was a lovely service even though I was grossly misquoted at the end. This is something my mother needs to forgive herself for and let go of! – John

    • Thank you, MJ and John. Regarding John’s funeral, it’s as my daughter has told me: You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. Interestingly, a dear friend (Mark) who is a monk made me aware of the “Green Burial” option available on the monastery grounds. Just as you say, a small gathering in the woods and a degradable coffin in the ground.

      I may be harsh, but I think family is not family if they don’t respect who you are.

      • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

        You are not being harsh! I had to explain that to my aunt last night. My brother made aware of the green burial option. There is one conservancy burial grounds in the State of Ohio. I am taking that into consideration. I love the idea! – Michelle

        This was a very good post for many to read at this time! – John

  4. Interesting piece Marco and quite timely. I’ve also been wondering about the fact that so many holidays are preceded by the word “Happy”. Especially Halloween now, wouldn’t “Scary Halloween” be more appropriate? Mysteries of human society.

    Then, you may be familiar with the Italian version of it, where they say “Buon Natale, Pasqua, Anno Nuovo” and so on. Which is literally translated as “Good “. Isn’t that curious as well? Maybe it shows a difference between the two cultures. Just a thought.

    There were a couple of lines which made me chuckle: “while other boys were unwrapping their presents I was unwrapping their sisters” and the concluding sentence. Quite brilliant. 🙂

    I’ve never been to a funeral, so not sure what to say about that part… although, not too surprising that you decided to side with the Buddhist mother’s side.

    The part which is probably my favorite here is when you describe the meaningful interaction you had with your daughter. That was really heart-warming and a joy to read.

    Thanks for sharing, peace.

    • Thank you, PSY. Yes, I’m familiar with the linguistic variations that indicate cultural differences, and have long found them enlightening. Although I can’t reproduce the proper script here, the Swedish way of saying Merry Christmas is God Yule. This puzzles a lot of English speakers.

      Thank you for referencing my interaction with my daughter. Every day I have a chance to be with her is a holiday in itself. Marco

      • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

        That is such a lovely sentiment about your daughter, Marco! I feel the same about my children. I meant to mention, also, how I really love the Christmas celebration with your daughter. I thought it very touching and it also taught her about caring for the planet. – Michelle

        That is true that we need to change the Christmas tree thing. – John

  5. Ray Rivers permalink

    Another excellent blog. They say Happy Christmas in New Zealand – what does that tell us about a land which its population calls ‘God’s Own’. I’m not put off with the religion aspects of on our Canadian Remembrance Day – for many folks religion is how they deal with death and the departed. And the churches often play a role in organizing the events – when I lived in rural Ottawa the French Catholic and Anglican churches alternated organizing the events. Somehow I always got dragged in to translate and even help organize when the Catholics had their turn, and I’m anything but a Catholic – but it was a community much divided along linguistic and old church lines. Anyway, thanks again for a thought provoking piece.

    • Thank you, Ray. I think it would have been completely fascinating to learn from you how you navigated liturgical translations. Given the now known history of endless translation errors in what people now call the Bible, it must have been a very delicate process, almost worthy of U.N. Translator status. I wonder if you’ve thought much about that. Thanks again, Marco

      • Ray Rivers permalink

        Marco that is a good question. Fortunately the service was simple and sweetly short each time (unusual for a Catholic service, I know) so I stayed out of hot water and I had the French text in my hand. I guess the Minister thought I knew what i was doing because he then asked my to translate his Anglican sermon the following year. Thank God I had taken acting classes as a student.

        Interestingly another time I was asked to translate was by a French speaking close friend at his wife’s burial. It was an impromptu thing (no prep) and the Priest, who was Haitian, had the worst accent ever. Oh such pressure!!! I had to struggle to even understand let alone worry about the liturgical implications of what I was mouthing. I think we buried my future as a translator along with our friend that day.

      • Thanks, Ray. I do understand the Haitian issue. Wherever I was stationed in CDC clinics the non-English speakers, of all kinds, were sent to me. My first encounter with a Haitian patient was my mistake since I presumed she spoke French. I did not realize that was true only of those who had formal schooling. Creole is extremely difficult, even worse than Papiamento. Marco

  6. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    Very thoughtful piece, and–considering how dense the next two months are with ‘holidays’–very timely, as well. (“Happy Christmas” comes from England, I think, hence its presence in New Zealand; I wonder if they say “Happy Guy Fawkes Day,” since the 5th of November is a serious holiday that never crossed the pond.) I’ve been lucky; when I was young my parents attended as few funerals as they could decently avoid, and refused to even consider bringing my brothers and me with them. As a putative adult, I’ve been to a number of funerals and memorial services, most of which were OK, and none of which were actively unpleasant (though I can recall one where the departed was rendered almost saintly–and pretty much unrecognizable–by all who spoke). Most holiday celebrations–which I tend to avoid except for those with friends and family–have been equally un-dramatic; while I spent time (several decades ago) with fundaligionists, I was careful to stay away during the holidays. Nor have I had to spend such times with my wife’s brother’s often severely conventional in-laws, a fate my cousin was unable to escape with *his* in-laws. These things can often be social and emotional minefields, and “live and let live” is not a common tenet among those professing Western faiths.

    • Thank you, Mike. Your experiences bring assurance that there are pools of sanity left in this country. That leaves me undecided on whether to bump fundamentalists into those pools or leave those pools in their unsullied state. Tolerance is stretched when someone poops in the pool.

  7. My birth family were great celebrators of all the major holidays, but religion had very little to do with it. As a child I was sent to the Baptist church on the corner; my children were allowed to experience the traditions, but it was never forced on them. I find that practice completely intolerable. Religion is a wonderful institution for those who feel the need; I was never one of them, preferring to seek out my own truth.

    More than once, I embarrassed my mother by stating my lack of that particular need. Funerals are the worst; people being badgered and brainwashed when they are at their most vulnerable. When planning my brother’s funeral, I’m sure I stunned what remained of my family by insisting that there be no preaching there. I envy those who can take things on faith, but this will never be me.

    • Thank you, Rose. Your moderation and strength continue to live on through your descendants, and we are all better for it.

      • Thank you, Marco, but I have to apologize for the lack of substance in my past few comments. The “humbugs” have set in early this year, leaving me with little to say. I very much enjoy your posts, and the comments offered by others.

        It’s no wonder the suicide rate goes up during the “holiday season”; who could keep up with the financial and emotional demands they place on all of us. During a low budget year, my husband and I decided to buy each other only one (modestly priced) gift. It felt so good to have that pressure relieved that we have maintained this practice every year since. I maintain that if the success of the holiday is based on the number and price of the gifts you receive (or give), then the holiday is already lost. Now, if I could just convince my mother to simplify the meal.

      • Thank you, Rose, Your comments are always welcome and certainly beneficial for all of us who read this blog. Reading your comment on limiting gifts to one each I was reminded of my comment that deep feelings have more power than shallow acts. I think this applies as well to overly done banquets since so often they seem to generate a need for like reciprocity, feelings of indebtedness to the benefactor, or feelings of inadequacy among those who cannot reciprocate.

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