Fear of Festivals

I have a confession to make.  I’m not very good at holidays.  Taken to extreme, fear of holidays even has an official name:  Heortophobia.  Not wanting to be bound by obligation disguised as tradition, I’ve veered a little too adamantly to the other extreme of unpredictability.  Spontaneity seemed better, somehow.  Brighter and freer.  My kids asked, “Can’t we just have turkey dinner like everyone else?” when I proposed some new and exotic menu.  I thought I was rescuing them from the horrors of green bean casserole (sorry, Mom – I confess that it was never a favorite).

Recently, a comment from a new Australian acquaintance made me think.  He noted that in workshops that he leads, he would ask participants to raise their hands if they were indigenous.  Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders would raise their hands confidently, while white people would sit still.  “Everyone is indigenous to some place, but white people seem to have forgotten their past.”  He continued to talk about the importance of names, family and clan/kin/tribe, connection to your origins and knowing your traditions.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since.  It’s probably appropriate this time of year.


Diwali – Festival of Light

Now I read with curiosity and slight longing when I discover posts about others’ joyous traditions.  For example, I just happened upon this wonderful post about Diwali on Kiran’s Cooking Club site.  Diwali is also known as the “Festival of Light” and it is India’s most important annual holiday.  The name Diwali refers to the clay lamps that people light outside their homes, symbolizing inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.  Originally a harvest festival, Diwali is a time when Indian people (regardless of faith) seek the blessing of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.  The holiday is celebrated with family gatherings, lamps, lights and fireworks and traditional sweets.

“Zie ginds komt de stomboot…”

When we lived in Holland, we enjoyed the arrival of Sinterklaas (otherwise known as Saint Nicholas) with his crew of Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes – Moorish helpers) by steamboat the third week of November.  The Sint rides his trusty white horse and “Petes” engage in all sorts of mischief.  Children leave shoes out each evening, and if they are lucky they will find small presents in the morning.  December 5th, the Eve of Sinterklaas, is celebrated with gifts, rhymes and sweets.  Typical treats include pepernootjes (small spice cookies), speculaas (more spice cookies!), large chocolate letters for the first letter of the child’s name, marzipan figures and chocolate coins.

Other harvest festivals and fall and winter celebrations draw me in with their family time, sense of belonging, music and fun.  We spent 8 of the last 20 years living in The Netherlands and London, far from home and family holidays.  This year, we’re divided.  Extended family is far away as always and two daughters are studying abroad, leaving a small group of three to celebrate a quiet holiday.

What will we do?

Will we celebrate my husband’s Spanish background with a feast of tapas and traditional dishes?  Should  we explore my English/Scottish/Irish heritage and perhaps rediscover the rituals of the Winter Solstice?

Or shall we stick to tradition and try something completely new?


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 19:01:59

    OMG, I love this post! Favourite lines: “obligation disguised as tradition”, “I thought I was saving them from the horrors of green bean casseroles” (our mothers must have used the same cookbooks), and “Or shall we stick to tradition and try something completely new?” Fabulous. Thanks for a great read.


  2. Valerie
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 03:51:23

    It’s interesting to think about the origins of holidays, too. In Egypt people don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and when I mention Thanksgiving I always have to explain what it is and why Americans celebrate it. I just want to say that we make a big meal in thanks for bounty and harvest, but that’s not it, really. There’s a whole history behind Thanksgiving, and some Americans don’t see it as a celebration of harvest but rather as a celebration of gruesome massacre of Native Americans by settlers. I don’t want to feel guilty about Thanksgiving, but I can’t help it. Still… next Thursday my flatmates and I are doing a Thanksgiving dinner, but who knows what will be on the menu?!


    • puravida
      Nov 16, 2012 @ 06:04:20

      Expats in Egypt? No question – you’ve got to have turkey and all the trimmings. Don’t feel guilty – enjoy yourself (and be sure to Skype with your family!) 🙂


  3. Photos close to home
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 08:05:42

    Interesting post. Because I live so far from my family, I look forward to the holidays, but with a twist. We meet somewhere and let the hotel do the cooking. After a couple of days, we’ve all had enough of each other and head home.


    • puravida
      Nov 16, 2012 @ 10:04:37

      What a great idea! I think that meeting in “neutral territory” where people can relax and enjoy each other diminishes any potential stress or conflict. Enjoy your holidays!


  4. Marian Van Eyk McCain
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 10:06:23

    Heortophobia – great! Thank you for teaching me a new word for a condition I definitely suffer from. Except that for me it isn’t suffering. I see it as a blessed release from the other condition that seems endemic in the population – the one which, if I were naming it, I would call youortophilia. ‘Youorto’ visit certain people and make nice with them even if they drive you nuts and/or bore you rigid: ‘youorto’ be a good little consumer and buy everybody Christmas presents they don’t really want and keep Hallmark in profit. ‘Youorto’…keep on doing all the same old boring things you don’t really want to do, year after year. Except, guess what…you don’t have to. My partner and I stopped, some years ago, joining in any traditional festival celebrations whatsoever. Instead, we only celebrate when we actually really do feel like celebrating something. Which turns out to be delightfully often.


  5. Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher
    Nov 25, 2012 @ 18:21:30

    Whatever you do – leave the clowns behind! I love anything that encourages a little ‘new’ with some tradition.


  6. francisguenette
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 08:00:30

    I could identify with the part of your post that described the workshop facilitator who felt white people had lost a sense of their own past/traditions/heritage – whatever you want to call it – I’ve had that sense of feeling as though I don’t have “traditions” – crazy – we all come out of cultural traditions. It does seem to me that in today’s world people are so much freer to choose whatever tradtions they like – maybe people are losing touch with things they might have needed – maybe new traditions will be even better. I meant to do a little comment but the subject is obviously complicated. Thanks for getting me thinking.


    • puravida
      Dec 03, 2012 @ 08:41:58

      And thank you for making me think as well! In the end, we do have a patchwork quilt of family traditions at our house because of the places we have come from and the places we’ve been. Rather than rejecting traditions, I guess I like to have the option of tweaking them. After many years of family life, we have tried new things and have seen them become favorite traditions!


  7. pleisbilongtumi
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 06:05:47

    thank you for visiting my blog. You have wonderful blog here.


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