I think the world maybe needs more made up holidays, not fewer
Last week was my favorite holiday of all the holidays. While I do enjoy my town’s goofy Fourth of July parade and I’ve always liked raising a glass with neighbors on New Year’s Eve, the real once-a-year day of reflection and celebration for me is Buy Nothing Day.
I grew up in a small town and my family wasn’t religious. And I mean that in the not-religious sense, not the “Only go to church on Christmas and Easter” sense. No one ever went to church, or temple, or anywhere else to worship, ever. We had a town center with a town hall and a town common and a Congregationalist church. There would sometimes be community suppers there, or the bloodmobile. We had a Christmas tree at home and I didn’t really learn that I was partly Jewish until I went to college and my Jewish friends explained the whole Jewish thing to me. I’m surprised I didn’t catch on sooner when I was visiting my mom’s relatives in New Jersey, but I’m not always that clued-in to things. I say this only as a way of explanation that I really do understand the secular Christmas thing, but it’s still not a holiday I enjoy much. Too much baby Jesus, too many formally structured events, too much shopping and overeating, too much “this is how you do this right”.
So, sure, Buy Nothing Day is a made-up holiday, popularized by Adbusters and Wired, and even so I’m certain that I “celebrate” it in some sort of non-canon way. At the same time, when I come back to Vermont to my part time public school job and see the tiny menorah that is buried somewhere under the “holiday” tree in the school’s display, I appreciate having one day of celebration that I can be all in on. I campaigned for that menorah, and yet seeing it under the tree gives me a feeling of defeat.
I’ve commemorated Buy Nothing Day in some fashion or another for the past two decades — it’s only been an official thing since 1992 — in two basic ways.
- I don’t spend any money at all. No matter what.
- I spend part of the day outside. No matter what.
One of the initial impetuses for #2 was Bill McKibben’s first book The Age of Missing Information which he wrote in 1992. Bill McKibben is better known as the guy behind 350.org. He’s an earnest, sensible Vermonter concerned about climate change and other things that are ruining the world. This was back in the earlier days of cable television and the endless ruminating on what would actually be on those 500 channels we were promised.
In 1992 I was just out of college, living in Seattle, just learning about the Internet, didn’t have cable TV. McKibben found the US city that had the most cable channels, Fairfax Virginia, and recorded 24 hours of programming on all 93 channels. He watched these over a period of about six months, two thousand hours of television. Then he spent 24 hours in the Adirondacks, just thinking about things, and compared the experiences and wrote about them.
“What sets wilderness apart in the modern day is not that it’s dangerous (it’s almost certainly safer than any town or road) or that it’s solitary (you can, so they say, be alone in a crowded room) or full of exotic animals (there are more at the zoo). it’s that five miles out in the woods you can’t buy anything.” ― Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information
Now it’s pretty easy to fall into a lazy “Kids today…!” rant about the effects of technology on our lives and our culture. In my current life, I have more jobs that are online than offline, and even the offline ones are about teaching people to get online. I make jokes about becoming a raspberry farmer to get away from it all, but I could never hack the hours. Farmers get up early. McKibben’s not a snot about his observations, he just makes them and moves on. He later wrote a book, Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas, which was a project done with local churches to spend more money and time making sure everyone had their basic needs met and less money and effort on the shopping part of Christmas; creating genuine traditions that instilled a sense of well-being and fellowship, not feelings of urgency and competition.
I liked that idea but I’d long since stopped shopping for Christmas, a holiday I don’t really celebrate. My partner and I have a $20-ish limit for any holiday exchanges with bonus points being given for best recycled wrapping paper. Last year I was given some of that green glop that you can use to get all the crumbs out of your keyboard. So thoughtful.
Everyone has a favorite Holiday, whether it's Halloween, Valentines Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or even your birthday (because yes, my birthday is a holiday). The idea of celebrating something, a person, place or even a culture, brings happiness to people. My favorite holiday is the most recent one that is coming up... Christmas! Here are my five reasons why Christmas is my fave.
1. The decorations just make me happy.
I don't know about you, but my family takes decorating very seriously. We have two trees, a full town, a lot of snowmen and even more little gadgets that go all around the house. I love that I can walk through any part of my house and be reminded just how much I love it. Even growing up, my sister and I always knew it was officially the holiday season when we put all of the decorations up together. (And when I mean together, my older sister liked to "supervise.") This was one of the many traditions my parents had given to my sister and I at a very young age.
Now, if decorations in the house aren't enough... the decorations on the outside were more than enough. One of my absolute favorite parts of this time of year is riding home from just about anywhere and seeing all the lights on the trees and the houses.
2. The spirit of the holiday season spreads like wildfire.
The holiday season is all about the celebration of baby Jesus's life. To me, the idea behind this is the fact that he gave so much to us. This is where the gift of giving was born. The spirit of the holiday season is giving to everyone around you. While this doesn't necessarily have to be about the giving gifts to everyone but has more to do with the giving love and sincerity to everyone. If one person can give the gift of a laugh, hug or even a smile, that person can then pass that along to another person. Overall, giving is such a main idea around this time of year. Even if you can't afford an iPad, I know you can afford to give someone a smile that could change their entire holiday season.
3. It's a family holiday.
Family is the most important thing in life no matter what time of year it is but Christmas is one of those holidays you spend with all of your family. You get to see aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents even more during The holiday season whether you're doing a family dinner, a family trip somewhere or even a family dinner and movie night. I love that everyone sends Christmas cards to their family and friends all over the country. I love that friends exchange secret Santa gifts as well as big families picking out of hats for gifts. The idea of giving just supports the idea of being around family and friends during this time of year. Spreading the joy and love to each other brings everyone a little more happiness than usual.
4. It's a break -- from everything.
For most of the people my age this time of year means a break - from school, from your friends and life. One of the things I love most about this time of year is that I can leave my family at school and come home to my other family. I get to spend all year with these people and don't get me wrong, I love my family at school (shout out to Townhouse 1.1, you guys are the best) but something about just coming home and sleeping in my own bed and waking up to my puppies for month will never get old to me. So cheers to a four-week break, everyone!
5. Everyone is in a better mood (unless you're the Grinch).
I don't know about you but from the time of Black Friday till it is time to go back to school, I am in a much more cheerful mood than normal. There is something about being around family, seeing decorations and being home that makes me happy. I would describe myself as a relatively happy person but December just makes me exceptionally happy. Now if you're a Grinch and you don't like Christmas, don't come around me (unless you're bringing me your dog). Or how about you do come around me and I'll help you with getting into the Christmas spirit? I can give you a laugh, smile and even a hug (and anyone that knows me that's love because I hate hugs).
So, with Christmas coming up in a little under a week, here's to your Christmas. May your Christmas Day be filled with a whole bunch of food, laughs, and good company. From my family to yours -- Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday's, Happy Hanukah, Happy Quanza and everything under the sun!
Just remember, after all, it is the most wonderful time of year! Cheers!