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, my 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.
My 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.
There 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 throughout 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 display 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 celebration 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?