Americans have an odd way of celebrating their holidays. There is a much greater energy and enthusiasm that they put into them that I have never really experienced before. It goes beyond the dominating consumerist rituals of gift giving and the consumption of copious amounts of food and becomes something more meaningful. There is something about the way they celebrate these things that gets to the heart of what holidays ought to be about. It seems to me that it’s about bringing together the people you love.
My experience with the holidays has always been superficial. I don’t know if that’s because I’m Australian, or if it’s because of the family I grew up in, or if it’s the fact that the entire country becomes a glorified oven for several months of the year. But buying gifts for the kids and then being forced to sit around in a relatives yard for a barbecue while everyone drinks more than they should does not seem to have a lot of meaning to it, at least not to me. In fact most of us endeavor to get it over with as soon as possible.
I am now in the midst of my first holiday season in the US and it has been a lesson in how to celebrate. It started with Halloween; instead of reading through the usual flood of boring editorials on why Australia shouldn’t succumb to American cultural influence by celebrating Halloween, I got to hand out candy (lollies) to kids who went to the effort to get dressed up in cool costumes. Whinging may be Australia’s national pastime, but decorating your house with skeletons is far better use of your time.
I think the holiday that really hit home for me though was Thanksgiving. A distinctly American tradition that Australian’s are typically only familiar with through its depiction in the media. I noticed this video of a traffic jam made up of people presumably travelling for Thanksgiving and immediately thought about the kind of determination it must take to willing put yourself through that. The sense I get from this unique holiday is that it is one of the most important ones, easily on par with Christmas. Families come together to cook and eat and spend time together. It’s not all about presents in the way that Christmas is, but it’s about giving your time to your family.
Moving to another country can be an isolating experience and I must admit that my first Thanksgiving was at times harder for me than I expected. I miss my Australian family more at important moments like preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. But it served to remind me how thankful I am to be a part of a small but warm and welcoming family here in the US. Spending our time cooking and eating and just being around each other was the most wonderful gift I could have received. It was exactly what I needed.
Christmas is right around the corner now and its presence is everywhere. I don’t expect it to be like in the movies but I don’t expect it to be the way I have always known it either. I’m not a Catholic but I am curious and excited to experience a Christmas mass this year. I have also begun to plan out the ridiculous lengths I will go to decorate the house. I am thinking about what I can contribute to Christmas dinner, and Christmas in general. I know that whatever an American Christmas happens to be, that it could be the best one yet.