19 December 2005

Caroling for Cats: An Impromptu December Carnival

This holiday season hasn't been easy around here. We're swamped with grading, Curious Girl has been sick, Politica has been out of town a lot this semester visiting her ailing father, and as soon as we get through the semester we have to pile in the car and drive many, many miles to far away family. The trip will be fun once it's actually happening, but we're wishing we weren't always The Ones Who Travel in the family. We want to be People Who Stay Home for the Holidays.

But the holidays....which ones would those be? There have been excellent posts about Hanukkah and Christmas in the past few weeks, and I'm wishing that I'd read them all sometime in October (which was admittedly before most of them were written, but a gal can dream, can't she?). In October, we would have made some different plans. Here it is mid-December and it's just not feeling very holiday-ish around here.

Well, it's feeling a little holiday-ish. One of our neighbors made us two CDs as a Christmas card. One is a dance CD with all the picks by their five-year-old son, and the other is an awesome Christmas mix tape, with several cuts from the Barenaked Ladies holiday CD, some show songs I didn't know (like "I Don't Remember Christmas") and Rosemary Clooney singing "Suzy Snowflake." It's a gorgeous CD and it's very relaxing. Then on Friday night we went to a Shabbat service (where Rick Recht sang, making me feel like I was back at Girl Scout camp) followed by a big Hanukkah dinner, and on Sunday we went first to a Russian New Year party (where Curious Girl wondered if Ded Moroz/Grandfather Frost had a car, and decided that no, he and Snow Maiden/Snyegurochka walked), and then finally to our neighbors' annual caroling party. CG didn't like the party crowd, but she really liked walking from house to house singing carols (mostly because it was a great opportunity to throw herself into the snow repeatedly). When we got back to our house, she said, "Mama, can we sing those songs to Big Grey Cat? Let's do that!" and so she and I stood tall and sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Jingle Bells" to our sleeping cat.

When singing carols to your sleeping cat is the most festive thing you've done at home for the holiday season, you start to wonder what you're doing. And as I've surfed the blogs lately, I've realized there's a lot of accumulated holiday wisdom out there. So I'm throwing together an after-the-fact carnival for your reading pleasure (and since my reading pleasure hasn't yet included Julie's book, i still haven't figured out how to put some of this long post below a fold. Next year, I promise! )

Some interesting writing popped up in response to Baraita's very funny musings on the December "dilemma." Phantom described the way Jewish children start learning to navigate through Christmastide, and Elizabeth has some excellent thinking about the ways in which a few fewer public menorahs and a few more serious steps toward multicultural understanding would improve things, as well as some unsettled questions about how or whether the Christmas-celebrating practices of her extended family should affect their holiday practice at home. Tiny Coconut had a nice pair of posts about the difficulties of Christmas intruding into December activities for Jewish children.

Now, Jewish bloggers aren't the only ones critiquing Christmas. The comments at Phantom's post reveal some Christians resenting the ways Christmas has played out, and that theme is also noted in this new blog, The Wide Tent. Angry Pregnant Lawyer doesn't know and doesn't care whether God exists, and while her post wasn't explicitly on holidays, it resonates with the holiday themes at a time of year when religion and politics seem to come together pretty easily.

Phantom's pixies represent quite a diversity of practice, and it was interesting to read the comments from Christmas-celebrating Jews figuring out what really makes one a Jew anyway. Elswhere mentioned her last December post about negotiating (Renaissance Woman's) Danish Jul with her Jewish identity; it's a beautiful post (as Elswhere is wont to produce) that ends with her thinking that the little tree with which RW and Mermaid Girl share a Jul isn't going to be the thing that pushes MG away from Judiasm.

So what are we celebrating? As I said to Politica the other night, it feels like we're not really celebrating anything this year. (Yes we are, said Curious Girl. We celebrating Han-u-kkah.) Well, OK. Except we won't be home for Hanukkah, we'll be at my sister's for Christmas, and then visiting some other friends, who may or may not be celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas, depending on where we go. Last year, we celebrated Hanukkah here, and had a Norsk Julfest with Politica's father (if you clicked on Elswhere's post, the Norsk Jul is pretty much like the Danish Jul, except for no lit candles on the tree. Rysgrynsgrot, December 24, nisse). The Norwegian Christmas was our holiday ritual, even though the Christmas part of it wasn't our celebration (it wasn't really any of ours--my father-in-law is an atheist, although it's pretty clear that the god he doesn't believe in is a Protestant one). Still, we had our traditions. We got our fish at the same fish place. We decorated his little tree with the same ornaments. We used the same china, had the same conversations about how the salmon stunk up the house. We folded Curious Girl into these rituals when she joined the family. And this year, my father-in-law is in a rehab hospital in another state. We'll never have that Norwegian Jul in the same way, and it's a loss. I miss it. We miss it, and we probably don't realize how much that loss chafes at us.

This is Curious Girl's third December with us. We haven't had any consistent holiday rituals, other than going on the road. Sure, she's seen Christmas trees and gotten Christmas presents from our relatives, but not in formal settings that link trees and presents. She's helped light Hanukkah candles, but we don't have Hanukkah presents every night. She's remarkably unmaterialistic about December (although she can tell you now what she wants for her birthday in May, so it's not that she doesn't crave stuff). She knows more about Grandfather Frost than she does Santa Claus (and she looks very confused when people ask her if she's making a list for Santa). As I try to figure out just why total strangers feel the need to ask my child this question, I'm comforted by the notion that even religious Christians don't always promote Santa. Moxie doesn't, although we share her question about the extent to which we're doing a disservice by not training CG fluently in American secular culture, and we note that Selkie is down on Santa too. Of course, some of my favorite bloggers are pro-Santa, like Jody, who had a long post on Santa enthusiasm last year. Ianqui, who's one of the best bloggers around for keeping environmental issues entwined with daily living, points us toward good gifts for the holidays, so that gives us some great sites to explore as we think about ways to reduce the materialism of the holidays.

Our CD-making neighbors, like MamaCate, celebrate solstice. Cate's invocation from last year
As the light returns, may it bring with it confidence and clarity for my work in the world, and may I find my worth in every moment of mothering, even the ones where I am not my hopeful vision of myself as a parent, where I fall down and make mistakes. May the coming light remind me that I bring something of perfect worth and value to the world. May I find a path that feeds my soul and my family, and may I come closer to the ever-elusive balanced life I seek
really resonated with me. Our lives are rich, but there's something out of balance, and Politica and I realize that we crave a little more holiday ritual, even if we're not sure, or don't agree, on exactly which ones. We need what Susoz described about her history with Christmas, habits which have evolved that make peace with the past and create a content present. Curious Girl is getting old enough that we need to figure out which strands of our heritage and culture we wnat to emphasize in which ways--in part so she can know how to reply to questions, in part so we can know what family traditions to continue and what family traditions to invent. (Our new tradition, the Chanukah/Christmas/Solstice party, got suspended this year because of ill health and home renovations.) We haven't had the time to be together and talk about which strands of tradition speak to us (I think Politica is missing some Norwegian elements of December).

But naming the problem is the first step in fixing it. And whatever holidays are celebrated, we'll soon be sharing them with people we love. And that's not too bad at all.

But I sure wish I'd read through all these blog posts and comments sooner, since there is a richness there about the cultural traditions that clash and recreate themselves. See what you think. I'm finding lots to ponder.


Phantom Scribbler said...

I'm going to sit down and read through all of these links when our vacation starts tomorrow. Thank you for pulling them all together!

peripateticpolarbear said...

Found you through Phantom. Love the line about "pretty clear the God he doesn't believe in is Protestant".

And the whining post is awesome.

I'll be back.

susan said...

I'll be gone for a couple of weeks, with only spotty internet access, but I hope you'll drop a comment once you read them, Phantom. I want to talk about this stuff with people!

And PPB, welcome, and do come back.