Monday, December 05, 2005

Holiday Season



Since I was a little boy, the soundtrack of December has prominently featured "The Andy Williams Christmas Album." Initially, the music was scratched from an old LP drawn from the crease of a worn red cardboard record jacket in the living room of my parents' house. In more recent seasons, however, Marci and I have acquired our own personal copy of the album on CD (still with Andy Williams' grinning face on a simple red background) -- so the sound is accessible from the living room sound system (always the first album of the year during holiday decorating) as well as from my portable digital music player as I wash dishes, sit on the tram, or pedal my bicycle... For whatever reason, the dozen songs from "The Andy Williams Christmas Album" have become an integral part of what this time of the year sounds like and feels like to me.

In one of the well-known songs from the album, Andy Williams croons, "It's the most wonderful time of the year. With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call -- it's the hap-happiest season of all." And though I certainly recognize the imperfections, perversions, and pitfalls of holiday celebrations -- I have to admit that my thought process tends to more closely mirror the words of this song, when I consider my own experiences... And well, to be quite honest, I love the holiday season.

I've especially come to realize the advantages that come from exposure to a variety of different cultures. As a descendent of Swedish and Norwegian immigrants who grew up in the American Midwest and eventually moved to the most international city in Holland, I have the benefit of not just one set of holiday traditions -- and not just two -- but multiple expressions of holiday celebration, all of which happen to feature prominently at this time of the year.

The season starts with American Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November)... The day after Thanksgiving, we follow the tradition of our American families in putting up Christmas decorations (Dutch people think this is very early and very strange)... As we roll into early December, we are already in the process of celebrating the arrival and activity of Holland's Sinterklaas; then on December 5 (today) the Sinterklaas festivities culminate in a day of singing, celebrating, and exchanging gifts (outside of birthdays, this is the primary gift-giving holiday in the Netherlands -- but our family observes a simplified version of the celebration). In the following week, on December 13, our family observes the Swedish celebration of Santa Lucia. Then, the whole set of our cultural heritages (Scandinavian, American, and Dutch) compels us to gear up for a slew of special traditions surrounding Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas Day (December 25). Dutch holiday calendars also permit us an extra day of holiday relaxation for the Second Day of Christmas (December 26). And finally, the season culminates with special celebrations (preferably Dutch-style) on New Year's Eve (December 31) and New Year's Day (January 1)... Indeed, the end of November to the beginning of January represents a truly wonderful time of the year!

I suppose it can be confusing to create a personal or family identity in the midst of so many varied traditions... But I feel that I actually gain by sampling a bit of each, and I've come to cherish this time of the year as an opportunity for identification and affirmation with the various disparate facets of my identity. Of course, time, energy, and money limit the extent of my indulgence in the different holiday experiences. But I'm glad that I can eat lefse together with snert and mashed potatoes... And I can finish a holiday meal with either krumkake or with oliebollen or with pumpkin pie... I enjoy singing "Zie ginds komt de stoomboot" one week, "Sancta Lucia" the next week, and "Joy to the World" the week after that. I'm glad for so many special occasions during a time of the year that would otherwise be incredibly dark. I have no problem being a cultural mutt.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

1 Comments:

At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Marco said...

Yo Eric check deze link dan even voor een 'indepth study' over sint en piet:

http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas

 

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