We have a pile of VHS-tapes from Charlie and his sister's childhood. Mostly they are good fodder for laughs and shock and awe (bad 80s hairdos, smoking inside, the weird cinematography, the entire show with Shamu at Seaworld that's like a Greek tragedy with synthpop), but they also reveal something interesting about the middle class American family in the mid-80s. They are set to a specific rhythm: Christmas, Charlie's birthday, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, J's birthday, Christmas, Charlie's birthday and so on…punctuated only by a trip to the beach, to Alaska, Hawaii, or…Seaworld.
Each Christmas little J and Charlie run into the living room, followed by their mother who is clearly still sleepy, and tear into a huge pile of presents. At easter, they wander in to find Easter baskets filled to the brim with chocolate eggs and bunnies.
This year, the after Easter, a woman about my age came to my work and while she was ordering, tossed out a rhetorical question wondering why there were bunnies and eggs associated with Easter? No, really. Further more, she was puzzled and delighted to find out that there was in fact an older tradition than the current Christian one associated with the season. "Now I feel like I can celebrate it!" I nodded and smiled and thought to myself how sad it was that this person needed some sort of permission to celebrate the changing of the seasons, the rebirth of this hemisphere.
The holidays, whatever they maybe, give the year it's shape, but it's the traditions that give them a meaning. To me it was never just the chocolate eggs, it was the witching that made Easter special, just like setting up my make-shift manger and taking candles to the cemetery was just as much a part of Christmas as the presents. Don't get me wrong, I loved the presents, but they were not the whole tradition.
Often, we have lost the original meaning the holiday had for our people and are following just the empty shells of a tradition, like actors in a particularly worn-out play. That's why Christmas is stressful, because we can't get the costumes quite right, find the props, or usher all of the players onto the stage at the same time.
It is up to us to rediscover and reinvent the holidays and their meanings for ourselves and our kids.
May Day is one of the ones that I'm never able to overlook. Each year I tell myself not to worry
about it, because mostly, no one else in this country does, and then at the last minute I'm calling friends and organizing potlucks and bonfires. I feel an inborn need to celebrate it. We're still forming our tradition, year to year, but it is important to me to mark the day. April is over, summer is almost here.
I made Finnish May Day mead, decorated the garden, we danced around a makeshift Maypole from our neighbors to the beat of a horn, an accordion and a box drum. Last year, we had a picnic on the beach, yet neither of these things seems out of order for the same celebration. Perhaps that is the tradition; to celebrate, to acknowledge.
And then, of course, there are the traditions of the natural world. Last week marked the beginning of the dragonfly season for us, the first day when the tree peonies and Charlie's ancient Lewissiana bloomed.
Rufous and Anna's hummingbirds are getting more and more room in my journal each week, as are newts, shepherd's purse and fiddleheads.
Kate recently mentioned in a post an article by Derrick Jensen on Orion that had caught my eye as well. In it Jensen discusses how our indifference to harbingers of the cycle of the year makes us blind to the obvious changes that are occurring as the climate shifts and changes.
These too are the traditions that we are loosing; when the first butterflies, or tree frogs appear, when the deer calve, when migrating birds come, or edible plants push through the ground into our consciousness.
In times like these, we have to hold fast to that which is our tradition, we have to remember and share and teach them.
And most importantly, we have to celebrate them.
What holidays do you like to observe? What are your traditions?