Archive for the ‘#holidays’ Tag

Reflection Time   4 comments

December 30, 2019

Do your characters celebrate New Years’ and if so, how? If not, why not?

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A Word from the History/Philosophy Geek

As the world counts down to midnight, we’re turning our blogs toward the subject of the New Year and celebrations our characters might engage in.

Historically, the new year wasn’t always on Jan. 1, and still isn’t in some cultures.

The ancient Mesopotamians celebrated their 12-day-long New Year’s festival of Akitu on the vernal equinox, while the Greeks partied around the winter solstice, on Dec. 20. The Roman historian Censorius reported that the Egyptians celebrated another lap around the sun on July 20. During the Roman era, March marked the beginning of the calendar. Then, in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar, which set the new year when it is celebrated today. That didn’t standardize the day. New Year’s celebrations continued to drift back and forth in the calendar, even landing on Christmas Day at some points, until Pope Gregory XIII implemented the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which was an attempt to make the calendar stop wandering with the seasons.

Though the selection of the new year is essentially arbitrary from a planetary perspective, there is one noteworthy astronomical event that occurs around this time: The Earth is closest to the sun in early January, a point known as the perihelion.

Nowadays, Jan. 1 is almost universally recognized as the beginning of the new year, though there are a few holdouts: Afghanistan, Ethiopian, Iran, Nepal and Saudi Arabia rely on their own calendars. Different religions also celebrate their New Year’s at different times. For instance, the Jewish calendar is lunar, and its New Year’s festival, Rosh Hashanah, is typically celebrated between September and October. The Islamic calendar is also lunar, and the timing of the new year can drift significantly (In 2008, the Islamic New Year was celebrated on Dec. 29, while it fell on Sept. 22 in 2017). The Chinese calendar is also lunar, but the Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.

Why does the start of the new year carry such special symbolism that its celebration is practically universal? Behavior this ubiquitous must surely be tied to something intrinsic in the human animal, something profoundly meaningful and important, given all the energy and resources we invest not just in the celebration but also in our efforts to make good on a fresh set of resolutions, even though we mostly fail to keep them. It may be that the symbolism we attach to this moment is rooted in one of the most powerful motivations of all: survival.

Human beings love to party and we seem to enjoy patterns. As our birthdays do, New Year’s Day provides us the chance to celebrate having made it through another 365 days, the unit of time by which we keep chronological score of our lives. Another year over, and we’re still here! Time to raise our glasses and toast our survival.

Resolutions are about survival, too—living healthier, better, longer? New Year’s resolutions are examples of the universal human desire to have some control over the future that is unsettling and unknowable. To counter that worrisome powerlessness, we do things to take control. We resolve to diet, exercise, quit smoking, and to start saving. Committing to them, at least for a moment, gives us a feeling of more control over the uncertain days to come.

There are hundreds of good-luck rituals woven among New Year celebrations, also practiced in the name of exercising a little control over fate. The Dutch, for whom the circle is a symbol of success, eat donuts. Greeks bake special Vassilopitta cake with a coin inside, bestowing good luck in the coming year on whoever finds it in his or her slice. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve started in China millennia ago as a way to chase off evil spirits. The Japanese hold New Year’s Bonenkai, or “forget-the-year parties,” to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a better new one. Disagreements and misunderstandings between people are supposed to be resolved, and grudges set aside. In a New Year’s ritual for many cultures, houses are scrubbed to sweep out the bad vibes and make room for better ones (which was also the connection to bringing evergreens into our houses back in the Celtic era).

A lot of evangelical Christians I know celebrate New Years with a “watch night.” They get together to eat massive amounts of food, play games, shoot off fireworks, stand around a bonfire and pray for their family, friends, community, state, nation and the world.

Everywhere, New Year’s is a moment to consider our weaknesses, mull over how we might reduce the vulnerabilities they pose, and to do something about the scary powerlessness that comes from thinking about the unsettling unknown of what lies ahead. As common as these shared behaviors are across both history and culture, it’s fascinating to realize that the special ways that people note this unique passage of one day into the next are probably all manifestations of the human animal’s fundamental imperative for survival.

First, not all my characters celebrate modern holidays

In Daermad Cycle, no, my Celdryans (descendants of Celts) do not celebrate New Year’s like Americans and Europeans do. Although the Romans (they call them Rawmanes) of their era would have celebrated something like New Year’s midwinter, they were not thoroughly romanized before they left Europe to somehow find their way to Daermad and found the kingdom of Celdryan. In thoroughly Celtic fashion, the Celdryans celebrate their “new year” in November and they call it Samhain. There are elements of Dia de le Morte in their worship – they believe the dead walk on Samhain.

The Kin (an indigenous people who live nearby) celebrate the winter and summer solstices and consider the winter solstice to be the start of their new year. Their culture is one of laughter, dance and community, so the solstice is just a larger gathering of laughing people and dancing, although they also use it as a time to record the year’s events and the memorialize prior year’s events.

What Happens in Kansas

Shifting my attention to Transformation Project — the story is set in modern America the day after tomorrow following a series of terrorism attacks that have devastated the government and much of society. I focus on a small town in the Midwest that keeps surviving by sheer grit, innovation and faith.

Of course they still “celebrate” the holidays they were used to. In Gathering In (the most recent book in the series) the Delaney family gathered for Thanksgiving and their annual tradition of saying what each person is grateful for in the midst of death and destruction took on new and poignant meaning. When 30 million people died around you recently, your definition of gratitude changes dramatically.

In “Winter’s Reckoning” (the next as-yet-unpublished book in the series) the family gathers for New Year’s Eve. They are a largely evangelical family living in a conservative town. Shane is an agnostic bordering on atheism and some of the adopted family members may not have as deep a faith, but the Delaneys are mostly church-going people. When they gather for a celebration of New Year’s, there will be a faith-based focus. The town is running low on food and medicine and their hopeful view from Thanksgiving seems misplaced. The Delaneys lost a family member at the end of Gathering In and a member of the household is recovering from serious injuries in the next room, so they keep it low key – a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, hot tea, popcorn and toast, and good company. Certainly they’re going to pray for their community and the larger situation. Will also they review the year past and consider the future? That would have been part of the watch night in previous years, but are they brave enough to do that in the midst of an overwhelming disaster? Do they want to consider how they contributed to it or what it’s going to take to recover from it? The characters haven’t told me what they’re going to do yet.

A Holiday Dedicated to Drinking

From the very first book in the series, I established Rob Delaney is a recovering alcoholic. It’s just a part of his life and it’s not central to the story. At the end of Gathering In, he might have been headed toward a relapse. As I write the story of that first New Years since the end of the world as they knew it, I pause to consider if Rob might struggle with a holiday dedicated to getting drunk. While those of us who don’t have a problem with alcohol thoroughly enjoy ourselves, we may well be torturing people who can’t safely participate.

Bright Lights & Big Booms

Fireworks are an amazing thing and here in Fairbanks, Alaska, New Years is the only time we can really enjoy them. Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day never get dark enough at night to do justice to brightly colored lights in the sky and we risk setting the forests on fire. But New Year’s Eve, we have a huge community-wide fireworks display and then tons of little ones done by ordinary people funding North Pole Christian School by patronizing its fireworks booth. The night is 18 hours long and fireworks don’t still have enough heat when they hit the ground to set anything on fire. We can enjoy in freedom and without fear.

I wanted to include some fireworks in the New Year’s celebration in Emmaus, Kansas, because fireworks are a quintessentially American way to celebrate New Years. And, truthfully, what are the use of fireworks during an apocalyptic situation? I suppose you could collect all that black powder into a massive bomb, but practically, their best use is to brighten a dark night make even darker by human evil to other humans.

I didn’t even know I considered fireworks to be a sign of hope until I started writing it, but I really didn’t know the side effect of fireworks. Yes, hope for those who don’t suffer PTSD, but when I get into the head of my characters, they tell me their stories. In Transformation Project, a few of my characters have been to war and when one of them said “incoming,” I was struck by what exploding artillery shells over your house roof must do to veterans.

A Timely Prompt

Sometimes a blog prompt will cause me to consider deeper questions than I might otherwise have thought about when writing a scene. This week’s prompt came at a time when I’m already thinking of New Year’s and so, more work for me, but a better book, no doubt.

I wonder what my fellow blog hoppers are thinking.

Posted December 30, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Getting Along During the Holidays   Leave a comment

A friend of mine did an article similar and I decided to do one from my own perspective.

Image result for image of modern winter holiday celebration

It’s Christmas again and also Hanukkah and Solstice and there are about two dozen people celebrating Kwanzaa and, so, it is so easy for this time of year to become more about tyranny than celebration. You’ve got people who will argue about whether it is right for the majority culture to impose its celebration on everyone else. Isn’t it hurtful that Jews have to see Jesus who was used as an excuse by the Nazis to kill six million of them. We’re told that Jesus is the symbol of oppression for blacks and so they also should be sheltered from Christian beliefs. I used to live next door to some actual pagans who would build a bonfire in their driveway at certain times of the year – the winter solstice being one. They would walk around it, throwing salt over their shoulders and chanting incantations. Maybe they were insulted by our celebration of Christmas. But it’s okay for Jews to celebrate Hanukkah, blacks to celebrate Kwanzaa and pagans to celebrate the solstice … except, the atheists want nobody to celebrate anything religious, so let’s just all gather around Santa and drink a toddy or twelve in celebration of the days getting longer. Then evangelical Christians respond that Santa is an idol and they don’t want to participate in that, so ….

Yeah, we all go nuts at Christmas.

I have an antidote for our mid-winter insanity.

STOP!

I am a Christian, so I will celebrate Christmas. A recent study says that 64% of Americans prefer to use the greeting “Merry Christmas” and about half of those resent efforts to force everyone to say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”. In other words, most Americans are not upset to see Nativity scenes or Santa. As a devout evangelical Christian, I do not object to Hanukkah even if I rarely participate in it. My friend Ron tells me that, as a Jew, he isn’t upset about Christmas. I’ve met only one Jew, a university professor who had lived in Israel, who said they resented Christmas. I’ve met many more Rons than Professor Bs. I went to a Kwanzaa celebration back in college (for an article I was writing), but 30 years on, I know only one black person who has celebrated Kwanzaa and she tells me it’s not really a thing anymore. It died with black nationalism and she doesn’t think “a celebration of separatism” should return. That’s her view.

Alaskans are all solstice admirers to a certain extent. We have 2 1/2 hours of sunlight right now. We celebrate the 30-seconds extra we get today if only by reading the “hours of daylight” stat in the newspaper and smiling. Brad and I are going to a friend’s property tonight to burn a big brush pile and drink hot chocolate. It’s part of a land clearing project our friend is doing preparatory to building a house. Since most of his guests are evangelical Christians, you can’t rightfully call it a religious celebration, but our friend did pick this day, knowing what it means, wanting to celebrate the return of the light.

I live 12 miles from the City of North Pole, Alaska, where you can shop at Santa’s Workshop and see a 30-foot tall statue of Santa from the main highway. The city street lights are painted to look like candy canes and all the streets have very Christmas-y names. Trust me, there are evangelicals living in North Pole who resent the Santa worship, but they’re outnumbered so they just grumble and live with it.

Atheists can resent all the various celebrations and their religious connotations all they want, but that’s the reality we live in. The Scrooges don’t get a veto on everyone else’s celebrations.

And, you know what? We shouldn’t. Why can’t we all just get along? I will celebrate my way, you can celebrate your way. I can say “Merry Christmas” and you can respond to me with “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” and nobody should need to get upset about that.

Image result for image of messianic jewish christmasWhy must we tyrannize one another during a time of celebration? Well, I think it speaks rather loudly to our society at this point in time. We have somehow lost the ability to live and let live (a very libertarian theme). That used to be very American, but we’ve gradually reached a point where some of us no longer tolerate the differences of others if those differences are not politically correct. We SAY everybody has a right to their own beliefs, but then we treat people who espouse beliefs we don’t like with derision on social media and sometime even in public. Those who shout the mantra “How dare you tell anyone else how to live!” feel quite comfortable with telling people who hold opinions we don’t like how they should live. And then we wonder why those people resist and refuse to participate in the societal zeitgeist of the month. Why can’t they just accept our better way of doing things? Don’t they know “we” are so much more enlightened than they are?

STOP!

I do believe myself to be more enlightened than a lot of other people on a variety of subjects. I will happily tell you about it on this blog. I will talk with you in person if you’re willing. But I feel no need to force you to believe as I do or to conduct your life as I do. What you do that doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg is none of my business. What I do that doesn’t pick your pocket or break your leg is none of yours.

See how easy that was?

Merry Christmas!

Deck the Halls!   4 comments

Ah, Christmas! The Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve season is bright shiny lights, twinkling tinsel, parties and feasts and gift buying galore.

When our children were little we had Thanksgiving, followed by an anniversary, St. Lucia’s Day, two birthdays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. One year, I counted 27 different celebratory get-togethers that one or more of the family attended.

Nuts, right?

Image result for image of autumn inspired christmas decorationsSo  how did we de-lunacize our holiday experience?

November 13, 2017 – As the holidays begin rolling in, what do you do to prepare your house, yourself and your family for the hectic days ahead?

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Something had to give and it started giving that year.

I now buy Christmas gifts in September or even earlier. I avoid Black Friday altogether and, right there, take a lot of stress out of my life.

My favorite season is autumn, so I decorate my house for the season with autumnal colors – leaf swags, floral arrangements, a basket of fake gourds, the emergency lanterns that have a practical artistry. From Labor Day through Thanksgiving, our house is a veritable fall scene — and it will be again after New Years.

I make a huge meal for Thanksgiving and on the Friday, we swap out the autumn decorations for Christmas decor while eating leftovers. We put up and decorate the natural-look fake tree (don’t laugh, they don’t burn your house down so easily). We swap the swags, wreaths and floral arrangements and I pose my St. Nicholas figurine collection on the radiator shelf under the front window. A former supervisor used to give me one of these every Christmas and so I have a historical retrospective of St. Nicholas’ evolution from Turkish monk struggling through snows with a backpack to  a jolly Santa delivering a sleigh full of toys. We also put out a Nativity scene. Our 18-year-old son is going on 15 years of picking where the Wise Men start their journey (they weren’t at the stable there when Jesus was born). They’ll move closer as Christmas approaches and reach their final destination on Boxing Day (December 26 for Americans). We’ll take the decorations down New Years Day.

We really don’t do much with the outside of the house because Fairbanks has true winter and it’s usually been deep winter for a month by Thanksgiving. Before our crab apple tree got so large, Brad would throw a light-net over it, but about three years ago, the tree suddenly got too tall to do that without a huge ladder, so we agreed to stop. We’ve talked about doing a plywood cutout Nativity scene, but we haven’t planned it yet.

Saturday after Thanksgiving, I’ll pull everything out of the fridge so I can clean the thing top to bottom. Brad will scrub the counter and clean up the broiler pans and other serving items to be ready for Christmas. And, then … nowadays, we sort of relax.  We still have the anniversary and two birthdays but the kids do their own planning now and we don’t sweat it. Maybe we’ll go to a Christmas party or the local production of the Nutcracker. We might participate in our church’s pageant. They’re always looking for narrators and last year, I helped with writing the narrative.

My brother will probably come over for Christmas Eve. Our mother was born on Christmas Day, so we have traditionally celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve since as far back as I can remember. If he comes to our house, we’ll eat leftovers for Christmas Day. If we go to his house, I’ll make Christmas dinner. But, as with Thanksgiving, I don’t really sweat the meal. Turkeys are easy and I was raised in a restaurant. My parents taught me all sorts of cool tricks for making a big meal come out all at the same time without stressing myself out. Christmas Day is a time of relaxation and introspection for us … a spiritually focused day.

Mainly, how we prepare ourselves for the season is by reminding ourselves that we don’t have to get sucked into all the insanity of high expectations and frenetic activity. We concentrate on home and hearth and we have pared down activities to only those needed for the family or church.

 

Posted November 13, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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