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Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

Thanksgiving

“Freedom From Want” (1943) by Norman Rockwell

Thanksgiving (1660s- ), also known as the National Day of Mourning,  is an American holiday that falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Most Americans have off from work. On that day most families gather together to have a big meal and give thanks for the past year.

The story goes that when the Pilgrim Fathers came to America and made it through their first year, they had a big feast and gave thanks.

The Pilgrims, unlike the fishermen in Newfoundland to the north or the tobacco farmers in Virginia to south, did not come to make their fortune and go back home. They came to make a new home.

As it turns out, the experience of the Pilgrims matches that of many families in America: coming to start all over again, to make a better life, whether they came last year or long ago.

What you might eat on Thanksgiving: turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, maize, peas and carrots, pumpkin pie and so on.

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Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a wild bird that the Pilgrims hunted. It tastes like chicken but not quite.

Some big-city stores, like Macy’s in New York, have a Thanksgiving Day parade in the morning with huge balloons, floats, marching bands and, at the very end, Santa Claus. The first Macy’s parade was in 1924.

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. It is the busiest shopping day of the year, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It is called black because that is when most shops start to turn a profit for the year. How well shopkeepers do on that day is seen as a sign of whether good or bad times are to come.

What is now called the First Thanksgiving (Pilgrims were not commonly seen as part of Thanksgiving till the 1890s) was in 1621, sometime between September 21st and November 11th. It lasted for three days. In addition to 50 Pilgrims, 91 Wampanoags, the neighbouring Native American people. It helped to make a peace between them that lasted for 54 years.

What they might have eaten:

  • deer meat stew cooked over an outdoor fire,
  • spit-roasted wild turkeys stuffed with corn bread,
  • oysters baked in their shells,
  • sweet corn baked in its husks,
  • pumpkin baked in a bag and flavoured with maple syrup,
  • popcorn,
  • Indian pudding, made from cornmeal and molasses and topped with sweet wine.

No cranberries, no potatoes, no forks. That part comes from the late 1800s. No pies or cakes – they had no ovens.

The holiday took root in New England and parts of the north, but was slow to catch on in the south. President Lincoln made it a government holiday in 1863, falling on the last Thursday of November. Under President Franklin Roosevelt it was made the fourth Thursday.

For Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a bitter reminder of the destruction that followed. So some of them observe a National Day of Mourning or Unthanksgiving Day instead.

– Abagond, 2007, 2014.

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Christmas

Christmas (354- ), which falls on December 25th, is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. In America and in many Christian countries it is the most important holiday of the year.

Note: This post is about Christmas in America (the US).

Over the years Christmas has become something that has little to do with Christ. Many people celebrate it who have not been inside a church in years or who do not even call themselves Christians.

On Christmas Day almost everyone gets off work or school. They give gifts to each other and then at night have a large meal. For children it is the happiest day of the year.

In the north it comes a few days after the start of winter. Getting ready for Christmas and looking forward to it makes the coming of the cold seem not so bad.

American Christmas is really two Dutch holidays rolled into one: Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6th and Christmas itself. The Dutch in New York gave their children gifts on St Nicholas’s Day and put treats in their stockings. Christmas, meanwhile, was a more serious church holiday, like Easter.

The English in New York copied the Dutch, but did all the St Nicholas’ Day things on Christmas.

Over time St Nicholas became what we now know as Santa Claus.

Santa Claus is a fat man with a long white beard who dresses in red and white. He laughs a lot and says “Ho, ho, ho.” He lives at the North Pole with his wife. He keeps a list of good children and bad children.

On Christmas Eve Santa Claus delivers gifts to good children all over the world. Bad children get coal. Or nothing. Santa is helped by flying reindeer. The most famous of these is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. His nose is so bright Santa can fly through any weather.

Children and shopkeepers love Santa. He has largely taken over Christmas from Baby Jesus. Many shops, and even some industries, would go broke if it were not for the Christmas that comes in a box.

There are special Christmas songs, food, television shows, films and so on. It is not just any day.

A few weeks before Christmas you put up a Christmas tree. There is even a song about that! The gifts go under the tree and wait there to be opened on Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve).

The gifts are put inside of boxes and covered with colourful paper so you cannot tell what they are. The expectation and surprise is part of the experience.

Children put up Christmas stockings, which get filled with treats overnight. This part goes back to a story about St Nicholas.

As a child I liked opening gifts best. Most of what I got as a child came on Christmas and my birthday.

Now that I am older I like the church part better. I go to mass on Christmas Eve. It is the only part of Christmas that has not been ruined by shopkeepers and in-laws.

– Abagond, 2006, 2015.

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Back from Jamaica

We got back from Jamaica on Friday at four in the morning. Our flight was delayed three times. We got to Jamaica on Saturday on the 2nd and stayed five nights at Sunset Beach in Montego Bay. Too short, as always. It now seems like a dream.

It was the first time the boys have ever been to Jamaica! They got to see aunts and cousins and so forth. And perfect their game of Halo 2, playing with British boys (the Americans ones were all back home at school).

Among the many great things said about Sunset Beach on the Internet, we also read some troubling things too. Like that there was not enough hot water or that the food was bad. While it is not as good as Jamaica Grande down the coast at Ocho Rios, none of the bad things we read turned out to be true. Not in our case at least.

Jamaica is beautiful but poor. Poorer than America, yet it is not desperately poor: you find fat people even among the poor unlike in some countries.

In Jamaica you can see a goat eating grass at a Texaco station, an old Rastafarian man riding a red bicycle in the hills, selling sugar cane and wearing a black Neil Diamond T-shirt.

We went to see the Great House at Rose Hall. It is a big white house on top of a hill overlooking the sea. The richest woman in the West Indies once lived there, Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall. She came from England but lived as a girl in Haiti where learned African black magic. She murdered three husbands and countless lovers she took among her slaves, one of whom killed her in the end.

We went to Margaritaville in Negril, a bar named after an old song. It has 200 feet (60 metres) of the Negril shore facing west: the sunsets are beautiful. The water there is warm and clear and calm – you can see the starfish lying in the sand at the bottom.

We also went to Dolphin Cove, the Negril Royal Palm Preserve and Dunn’s River Falls, a waterfall that you can walk up – it empties its cold, fresh water into the warm, salt sea.

I am not the sun, sea and sand sort. I do not enjoy getting wet and can barely swim. Add to that the high crime rate and little remains to draw me to Jamaica in itself aside from seeing family.

Well, I must admit the women are beautiful. On the whole, no place I have ever been to has better looking women, not even New York. Going by what I see on the Internet, however, the women in Cameroon seem to be even better, but i have never been there. In Jamaica just standing on a street corner and watching  the women go by is a joy. Lusting after them, my wife would call it: “sinning yourself into hell”.

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Fourth of July

In America most people have off from work for the Fourth of
July
. It is the
day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. It said that Britain no longer had the right to
rule America and gave the many reasons why. The British were not
persuaded and fought America for seven years. They lost and so
the Declaration stood.

The day is celebrated with parades and barbecues by
day and fireworks by night.

We had a barbecue yesterday to which we invited forty people
among family and friends. That is why it has been a few days
since I last wrote in here.

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Memorial Day

Memorial Day is the day when Americans remember those who have died for their country and, most of all, their freedom. It falls on the last Monday of May. The president goes to the Tomb of the Unknowns and gives a speech to honour the dead.

For most people it is a day off from work that marks the beginning of summer, even though summer does not really begin for another three weeks. But the weather is warm enough for swimming, and that counts for more for most people.

For my wife it is a day when I am home from work so she can get me to do work around the house. Therefore I will not get a chance to write more than this today.

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Easter

Today is Easter, when Christians celebrate the Resurrection, the day when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Jesus died on the cross on Friday (called Good Friday) but on Sunday he rose from the dead. Only Christians believe that this really happened, and even some of them have their doubts, like Bishop Spong. I believe it did happen.

Easter is not on the same day every year. It comes on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring – sometime in late March or early April. It falls on such a strange day because Jesus rose from the dead on the Sunday after the Jewish Passover and the Jewish calendar follows both the sun and the moon.

I celebrate Easter by going to mass the night before. The church service is a long one, but it is one of the best of the year. The church is dark while we all hold unlit candles. Then one candle is lit. Then candle lights candle till they are all lit. Holding the candles we read from Scripture and we become the crowd that wanted Jesus dead, saying things like “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Making us see that we are part of the fallen human race. Later in the story, when Jesus is risen, all the church lights come on for the first time since Friday.

There is also a mass on Sunday. If I went the night before, I do not go to this because it has nothing new except that you get to see the people who only come to church twice a year (Christmas and Easter).  You can tell who they are because like tourists: they overdress and look around too much.

Some churches have a service at sunrise on Easter. I have heard that that can be quite good.

When I was a boy I belonged to one of those families that only went to church twice a year. I hated it: I would have to get dressed up in uncomfortable clothes and uncomfortable shoes. My mother and my grandmother would tell me how handsome I looked, but I was just waiting for the moment when I could take them off. Even though we only went to mass twice a year, I hated it all the same: I was already uncomfortable from my clothes but on top of that, the priest had to talk on and on and on. What could possibly be so important as all that?

Last Easter when I walked over the mountain in the morning on the way to church, I saw the geese coming home from the south, flying over my head in wave after wave. It was one of the most beautiful things I ever saw. I was coming through a very dark time in my life and it told me (since it was happening on Easter) that if I had faith there was hope. As indeed there was.

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cruise

When I have a week away from work, sometimes we go to another city to see what is there, like Boston or Montreal. Sometimes we go to see some place famous in history, like Plymouth Rock or Gettysberg. But most times we go on a cruise.

We board the ship at New York or in Florida and then for a week it sails around to about three different places and then comes back. This year it was Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama. Two years ago it was Puerto Rico, St Thomas and Tortola. Next year, God willing, it will be New Zealand, Tasmania and Australia.

About half the time you are out at sea. That might seem like a pain, being stuck on a ship with nothing to do. The waves, as beautiful as they are, all start to look alike after a while.

But it never turns out like that.

First, taking it easy and eating and sleeping as much as you want and just spending time with your family or friends with nothing special to do is, really, hard to beat. Especially if you have been working like a horse, too busy and too tired all the time to sit back and enjoy life. Next, they have games and shows and game shows and movies and bars and music and dancing and all the rest. And, speaking for myself, just laying about reading a book with the sea rolling slowly by, the sun in the sky and the soft wind in your hair — that is hard to top.

When the ship does land, it comes in early in the morning and does not leave till night. That gives you all day to see the sights.

So for me it strikes the right balance between rest and having new and interesting things to do.

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