February 22nd, 2007

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The Holiday Season Rolls On

At our house we’re equal-opportunity revelers. We throw ourselves into not just Halloween, Christmas and the 4th of July, but Hanukah, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year and the Hindi ritual for brothers and sisters. Nevermind that we’re not Jewish, Catholic, Chinese or Hindi; we’re not even Louisianan, and the closest thing to brothers around here are our two male cats.
Still, anytime our girls hear a hint of observed merriment out there in the world, they’re compelled to bring it home and embrace it. They wouldn’t dare let so much as a solstice pass without hauling home a stack of appropriate library books, hanging banners on the front door, making cards and gifts for neighbors, and helping us turn dinner into a thematic commemoration of the day at hand.
Some of the appeal, no doubt, lies in the holiday bootie. I mean, who wouldn’t want a big old hunk of King Cake, or a dish of candied almonds, or a thin, red envelope with a crisp dollar bill inside?
And then there’s the equally attractive notion of ritual. There is something so satisfying in gestures, words, food and music that are more symbolic than literal in nature. There’s no logical necessity for ritual, and that’s the beauty of it. It answers to our deeper, more mysterious needs for reverence and recognition of all that we find most exquisite and important in the world. Ritual is poetry off the page.
Kids aren’t immune to this pull. The opposite, in fact. Toddlers often want an almost liturgical refrain running through their days – cuddle, eat, rough-house, read books, cuddle, eat, rough-house, read books, cuddle, eat.
Life itself is so stunning, popping, fresh and new; ritual grounds a kid. Even an ordinary family dinner can accomplish that, so when you add candles, place cards, and a Sanskrit chant or an Indian dessert, you’ve got everyone at the table truly present and connected.
But here’s where it gets interesting at our house. While these ceremonies help settle us into ourselves, they also serve to transport us completely. It’s partly through this holiday smorgasbord buffet that our kids are becoming world travelers. Nothing – outside of real air-miles and books – takes us so completely into other countries, cultures and communities.
This morning, putting away a stack of CDs we’d been using to celebrate African American history month, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if more folks (world leaders, say) truly understood each other’s customs and values and traditions – embodied them, even. Can’t you just see the guys at the G8 summit, singing, snacking and making brotherly bracelets for each other?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go get a good look at March, and her holidays, on the kitchen calendar.