Extraordinary Celebrations

This week’s topic is about new (to us) and unusual holiday celebrations. There have been two occasions – that I can recall – when I celebrated a familiar holiday in an unfamiliar way, and there was another time when I was the proverbial fish out of water. But all were wonderful experiences, and given the chance, I wouldn’t hesitate to do them again!

Here in Michigan, Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow – although I can recall a few Christmases that were so mild that my kids spent the day riding their bikes after opening their gifts. But most of the time, the end of December is cold, and the ground outside is snow covered and often treacherous. Since most of my immediate family lives within an hour’s drive from my home, and since my hubby doesn’t like to travel, holidays are usually spent either at our house or at a family home nearby. But I’ve spent two winter holidays in warm weather. And to me, that qualifies as totally unusual.

In 1979, st-martinmy college roommate and I went on a Caribbean cruise over the Christmas break. While I was excited about the trip, I was somewhat hesitant – I’d just been laid off from my teaching job, effective at the semester break in January. But my father, the accountant who’d always preached fiscal responsibility, encouraged me to go. I had no outstanding debts and no one to support but myself, he reminded me. If I put off going, I might never have another opportunity. I had a wonderful trip, and enjoyed celebrating the holiday with hundreds of strangers on board. The picture on the left was taken the day after Christmas, on St. Martin Island.

grand-canyonMy next warm-weather winter holiday was New Year’s Day 2002. Both of my daughters were in the high school band, performing in the Fiesta Bowl activities in Phoenix, Arizona. I joined a group of band parents who went along to watch. We spent a fun week exploring the sights in and around sunny Phoenix, while my poor husband stayed at home, dealing with one of the worst winters to ever hit the Great Lakes (my journal says that a record 54 inches of snow fell during the week we were gone!). The band did an awesome job (they came in second at the marching competition), and we rang in the New Year on the patio of the hotel. We had great weather, except for the day we visited the Grand Canyon! Great memories.

IMG_0496.JPGThere is one time I participated in a celebration not regularly recognized in my part of the world. During the summer of 2010, I spent three weeks in Japan with my relatives. I was able to take part in some of the Obon festivities, which I’d learned about in college, but never experienced. The Obon festival, celebrated throughoS1052674.JPGut Japan, honors ancestors. In each home, the family shrine is stocked with food in anticipation of visits from the spirits of deceased family members. In the picture on the left, my mom is shown paying her respects to her parents, who are pictured above the family shrine at my uncle’s home. We made trips to other family members’ homes to pay respects to other ancestors. The picture on the right was taken at mom’s cousin’s home, where a more extravagant displayS1051560.JPG was set up. Another important tradition during the Obon Festival is to visit the family grave site.  The monument is thoroughly cleaned, as you can see my aunt and cousin doing on the left. Each person comes forward, one at a time, pours a ladle of water over the grave (a cleansing ritual), lights a stick of incense, and bows in greeting. Later on, everyone gathers for a big celebratanko-bushition with parades, parties and a special dance known as Tanko Bushi. I learned the song and the dance a long time ago, and it was so much fun to participate in the actual celebration, along with my relatives. This was a very special time in my life, connecting with family I’d only heard about, and I look forward to traveling there again and experiencing more of my heritage.

Have you ever taken part in a new or unusual celebration?



About Patricia Kiyono

During her first career, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary music, computer classes, elementary classrooms, and junior high social studies. She now teaches music education at the university level. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband, not far from her five children, nine grandchildren (so far), and great-granddaughters. Current interests, aside from writing, include sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking, and music. A love of travel and an interest in faraway people inspires her to create stories about different cultures. Check out her sweet historical contemporary romances at her Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Kiyono/e/B0067PSM5C/
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14 Responses to Extraordinary Celebrations

  1. Helen Pollard says:

    What a lovely post, Patricia. Obon sounds both interesting and wonderful 🙂


  2. Joselyn says:

    How cool to participate in some family traditions! My family is mostly Dutch, but my mom didn’t do a lot of the tradtional cookies and such, so it has been fun to discover those recently.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      It was a wonderful experience, Joselyn! Around me, there are several first generation Dutch who keep some of the traditions alive – some Dutch language churches, too. Maybe you could find some near you and see if they have any activities you could observe.


  3. I like the honor of the ancestors, Patty. I know some watch over us.We just had an experience in our family that is not my story to tell, but it was a blessed surprise to the parties involved.
    In parts of Italy and other places in the world, food is left out on Halloween for those family members who may be passing through on their way “Up” for All-Saints Day the next day. I know there are people who would think that foolish, but it is more out of honor and welcoming than anyone expecting spirits to actually eat. I don’t see it any different that placing flowers on a grave.
    We had one usually hot Christmas when I was a kid.I can’t imagine celebrating it in the Summer as they do on the Southern Hemisphere.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      The Italian tradition sounds interesting, Tonette! I agree, I can’t imagine having sunny skies EVERY Christmas, though I guess if I were to live in the southern hemisphere I’d get used to it.


  4. jeff7salter says:

    all three sound wonderful.
    I think it’s terrific that you were bold enough and outgoing enough to observe the holiday with strangers on a cruise.
    I kind of sympathize with your husband — about the travel issue. Prior to 2010 (though I never really LIKED to travel), I did quite a bit of it. Since then, with the stomach problems and other health issues, it’s very difficult for me to go anywhere. In the past two years, I don’t think I’ve even left the county.
    Anyhow — also terrific that you were able to participate in those traditions of your ancestors. That’s something very much worth keeping alive and passing along.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I fully intend to spend more time in Japan at some point. They have so many traditions and observances I’d love to participate in.


  5. What an amazing experience to get to go to Japan and participate in that with your family. I hope you are able to go again soon.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Thanks, Angela. It’s my goal to visit again within the next five years. I need to get some debts squared away first!


  6. J.Q. Rose says:

    Really enjoyed your post. So interesting to read about the Obon festival. I can understand how meaningful that would be to experience it with your family. I do hope you can return to Japan soon to learn more. We escape the MI winters to migrate to FL every fall, so Christmas is always warm. After 15 years, I’m still not used to viewing Christmas lights wearing shorts and sandals


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Thanks so much for visiting, JQ! I’m saving up for my next trip. My parents used to go to Florida every winter, but my mom refused to leave before Christmas.


  7. jeff7salter says:

    BTW, thanks for adding those two book covers to my revolving billboard.


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