“You can tell what’s worth a celebration because your heart will POUND and you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of a mountain and you’ll catch your breath like you were breathing some new kind of air.” -Byrd Baylor
I’ve always had a passive aggressive attitude toward decreed holidays, both religious and civil. Holidays can disappoint. Back in the nineties I rebelled against Christmas one year. I skipped sending cards, opted out on baking cookies, and gave gift cards and lottery tickets. I even had my third-grade students bring a donation of pet food for the Humane Society instead of an exchange gift. (I later heard that some parents disapproved.) Reed still reminds me of the one year we didn’t even have a Christmas tree. Paul and I had a trip to Key West planned between Christmas and New Year, so I didn’t see the point. Reed was home from college spending time in the basement playing video games with his buddy, Nate. I didn’t think he would even notice.
The originator of the Festivus Holiday (remember that from Seinfeld?) must have shared my disillusions with the traditional holiday. Festivus, celebrated on December 23, features parodies of holiday traditions. According to Wikipedia the holiday continues to be adopted and referenced in popular culture. As in Festivus, I prefer to tweak holiday traditions so they better relate to my life’s experience. Better yet, I recognize holidays that are completely unique to our family.
Opening Day of Trout
When Reed was young trout season became our ritual spring holiday. Weeks prior we scouted for trout at all the fishing holes using corn to coax the stocked rainbows and hold-over browns into view. We outfitted our fishing vests or creels with hooks, spinners, and nail clippers. Pockets were filled with small jars of salmon eggs, salted minnows, and needle-nosed pliers. Jim, our nephew, traditionally spent the night before trout season with us. I recall consecutive years when we four trudged across an expansive cornfield at 6:30 a.m. in our hip-boots to claim our spot on the bank of Friggle’s Hole. As with most holidays, we had food and drink, sandwiches and thermoses of hot chocolate. By noon, whether we had our limit or not, we often set up our camp stove on the truck’s tailgate and cooked eggs and bacon. Eventually, life transitioned us into other ventures. But our trout-fishing celebrations live as large as any traditional holiday in my memory.
Other customs became celebrations for us completely by happenstance. On the perimeter of our property in Pennsylvania clumps of dried ornamental grass needed to be trimmed before spring so they will regenerate. Lighting the pampas grass with a match proved to be the quickest and most efficient way to accomplish the task. I don’t even know what year it became a ritual, but in late February we would burn the grass to ash. The dramatic whoosh and flare of the fire felt like our own personal firework display. On some occasions we had just the three of us and one of our Labs, Pike or Musky, present. I remember a year Grandpa Findlan watched from a nearby lawn chair. Other times, if the ground was snow-covered, a visitor would spectate from our dining-room window. Burning the pampas grass became our unique way to kindle anticipation for spring.
Own the Celebrations
We’ve always recognized birthdays, anniversaries, school graduations, and so on, but not in traditional ways. After Reed’s high school graduation, he tore off his cap and gown and hopped into the truck towing our boat for a two-week muskie-fishing trip to Canada. We no longer have Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, but whenever muskie-fishing season ends. I will always honor August 15, the anniversary of my dissertation defense. For my 60th birthday I held a 60-day celebration (Sixty Days of Sixty) and most recently began this blog to honor my 65th birthday. Two years ago I declared a one-time holiday for my granddaughters, American Girl Doll Day. (You can read about that in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandparents next spring!)
When I discovered the children’s book I’m In Charge of Celebrations, I knew I had a kindred spirit in Byrd Baylor. In her book Baylor describes just a few of the 108 celebrations she gave herself one year- “besides the ones that they close school for.” She honors Dust Devil Day, Rainbow Celebration Day, Green Cloud Day, Coyote Day, and more. Baylor’s New Year Celebration begins “when winter ends and morning light comes earlier…” Every New Year may not even be on the same date or day, but when the “day is exactly right.”
I celebrated the New Year on December 19. That was the shortest day of 2018 here on Wellesley Island. I checked. The sun set at 4:24 p.m. On December 20 the sun set one minute later. By January 1, we will already be twelve days into the new solar year and have gained almost as many minutes of light. I love the thought that as winter intensifies with blustery snow and frigid cold the imperceptible revolution of earth around the sun carries us toward spring and summer. That’s a rhythm deeper than the superficial experience of weather. I believe that in our lives, hope and optimism grow incrementally, yet steadily, beneath days of disappointment and regret.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square? Not for me. I would much rather celebrate the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge.