Christmas is a time for remembering everything that has come before us. It’s not a kind of memorial day when we remember what we lost, but instead a day to remember the great gifts that have come to us over the many years. The circle of gratitude is widened every year as the holiday expands with new love and new memories.
It may be more important this year than ever.
One tradition for many people about my age is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. In many ways this defines the tension of Christmas itself, even though very little in popular culture has been willing to decry the commercialism that is the true “War on Christmas”. And in the process it gave us a new definition of holiday cheer, bringing Vince Guaraldi’s cool jazz into the warm holiday like a sprig of winter itself.
It is dark outside when the alarm goes off, not at all a time to wake up. The usual 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight we can expect on a Winter Solstice is never enough to keep us going, even on a relatively warm and sometimes even bright year like this. The icy Winter of 2017 is just as dark as any other. The Solstice itself, that magic moment when the North Pole starts to wobble back towards the sun, comes on Thursday, 21 December at exactly 16:28 UTC/GMT (10:28 CST).
This is the end of the year traditionally. The new year should begin at Solstice, as is the ancient European tradition, just as the day begins at midnight. The only reason it doesn’t is that the Romans used a calendar, the Julian, that was off a bit by the time Pope Gregory XIII got around to revising it and everything moved ten days. No matter. The world since the Renaissance has increasingly been what we decree, not what we see.
The days are shorter and the wind bites cold. This is the time of year for transition, from outward to inward, at least among boreal people in the middle of a vast continent. The endless possibilities of summer have closed down and the time comes for reflection.
That’s what the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving, are really all about. America always has a lot to be thankful for but at the same time much to consider on a day apart. One of these is our public discourse and values, soon to be practiced around a large table for many people. Why do we place so much value on a hero who will save us? Why do we place so little faith in our own ability to make things better?
October is a good month for holidays in North America. At the end of the month we have the collision of the Celtic Samhain with the Aztec / Spanish Dia de los Muertos which swirled into Halloween. But in the middle is the difficult holiday, the one where we celebrate the connection of this continent with the rest of the world. And the three brother nations of this continent have their own ways of marking it. This is a repeat from 2011, updated.
To our North, in Canada, the nearest Monday to October 12th is Thanksgiving, this year on the 9th. To our South, in Mexico, the 12th is Dia de la Raza. Our brother nations here in North America have found things to celebrate in the early days of Autumn, but here in the USofA we have nothing but the pseudo-holiday Columbus Day – something we’ve tossed over our shoulders and given up on.
This may be a measure of our ability to get anything together.
In just a few days we celebrate a holiday somewhat more popular in the US than in Mexico. That’s just as well because it’s a classic North American kind of holiday in many ways. We are a family, which is why our relationship is so intense and personal at times.
It started as invasion by France to collect a debt, but the larger and better equipped French invasion force was defeated by a ragged group of Mexicans, some armed with little more than machetes and pitchforks. The Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 was 150 years ago this Saturday. It was not decisive, needing a few years before the colorful armies and politicians could sort it all out. But the victory at Puebla is a story deep at the heart of Mexican character – a determination and toughness that the great continent of North America shares as a very odd, sometimes dysfunctional family.
Thanksgiving is a truly great American holiday. It is a time when people from all over the world blend their traditions into one religious holiday celebrated by Christians, Jews, Moslems, and every other faith alike. To give thanks is universal, and what better way to celebrate deliverance to a land that to many is indeed the Promised Land.
But why is it in November? The very first day of Thanksgiving was held right after the harvest, on a day very similar to the Canadian Thanksgiving on October 12th. Why is it on a Thursday? The answer is that the nation itself was delivered from the horrors of war and recognized by the Treaty of Paris, owing a bit of time for the time it takes to cross the Atlantic and bring the joyous news. It was indeed a time to be thankful – but the story has the Hand of Providence all over it.
I will keep posting this every year until we stop the madness and make Thanksgiving the sacred holiday it is supposed to be, apart from the madness of shopping.
‘Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems,
That the holiday season was crafted from dreams.
There were visions of friendship and light through the land
As if darkness itself had been thoroughly banned.
But the times closed around as the blackness enveloped
And the victory of dark very slowly developed.