Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Early American Holidays

As the days get shorter and night fall arrives earlier, my thoughts drift to the upcoming holidays, particularly Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Christ as well as the arrival of Santa Claus definitely achieves its aim of providing entertainment and joy during the darkest time of the year. I start imagining shopping and baking cookies and spending time with my family. Christmas is one of the relatively few holidays that survived the transition from Europe to the present day.

Generally, the new calendar year of an agricultural people began with a noisy celebration to scare away evil spirits that may have cursed the past year. Think New Year’s Eve here, as a current example. Thus, the use of noise makers and the shooting of fireworks. The accompanying singing and dancing helped hide the serious nature of the event. Personally, I just thought it made it more of a celebration, but what do I know?

Spring would bring another celebration with rituals that celebrate the phallic symbols, such as a maypole with maids dancing and weaving around it. The innocuous Easter egg hunt is actually also celebrating fertility and new birth. And here we just thought it was fun to play hide and seek with the Easter Bunny!

Midsummer was celebrated as a time when the crops were at full maturity. Here again, this was an occasion for partying, dancing, feasting, drinking, and sexual activity. I wonder about all the picnics we typically go on as a nation, the time we spend at baseball games and such. Would that count as midsummer celebrations? Hmmm.

The year closed with a celebration of the successful harvest. Our own Thanksgiving celebration, as we all know, began as such a feast in the fall for the very first pilgrims. That’s truly an American holiday that has longevity. I'm not talking about how long it takes to prepare the meal, which typically is longer than the eating of it!

Early America’s calendar included four holidays that marked the seasons: Lady’s Day on March 25; Midsummer on June 24; Michaelmas on September 29; and Christmas on December 25. Additionally, there were a few others that many folks across the newly formed country observed, such as Candlemas, Shrove Tuesday, St. Valentine’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Whitsunweek (Whitsuntide).

Of course, there are many holidays on the current calendar that have nothing to do with the seasons. Some of these include Independence Day on July 4; Labor Day in September; and Presidents Day in February (formerly split between Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday).

Some are known best as Hallmark Holidays, because they are purely commercial holidays. For example, Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June, among many examples. Still other days are designated holidays by Presidential Decree or an act of Congress. I know that many Southerners celebrate Lee-Jackson Day to honor the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on the Friday before Martin Luther King Day. Interesting juxtaposition, that!

All this got me thinking: what local holidays do you celebrate? How many others around you also celebrate that day? What holidays do you wish we could eliminate? Or create? (I'd like to see a national historical romance writers day, personally.)

1 comment:

Patricia Barraclough said...

Sometimes it seems we are overrun with holidays. It would be nice if people would remember what the holidays have really mean. Memorial Day is a good example. I'd be surprised if most people could tell you what it is other than the beginning of the summer season.