Thoroughly researched, American Celebration analyzes and discusses the various components of holidays, festivals, and celebrations. Why do brides wear white? Why do new fathers pass out cigars? These, and many more questions are answered in depth and detail. Learn how our modern holidays evolved from their predecessors, and why they were originally celebrated. Learn the origins of many common holidays and their symbols.
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“American Celebrations” by Erin Lale AMERICA REALLY DOES HAVE AMERICAN FOLKWAYS Review by Garman Lord In December of 2010, during a roundtable phone call among family members wishing each other Merry Christmas, author Erin Lale experienced an epiphany. The family she grew up in amounted to a religious potpourri including Native American, Asatru, Zen Buddhism and atheism, but no Christianity. No family member was Christian or ever had been, so why were they wishing one another a “merry Christmas?” After much thought, Erin decided it was because they were American, and the expression “merry Christmas” was an American folkway, something we say to each other without thinking in a certain season of the year. (Never mind the contemporary PC proclivity for substituting “happy holidays,” essentially an ideological, rather than a folkish, issue.) Like most families, Erin’s had a Christmas tree with presents, stockings hung by the chimney with care, Christmas dinner, caroling around the piano, all the Christmasy things that Americans do all over America except that, seemingly, nobody other than the extremely pious, ever worship Christ. Practically every way in which Americans actually keep Christmas is merely rooted in some pagan folkway antedating the birth of Jesus by hundreds or thousands of years and, without thinking about it, those are the folkways we keep. The same holds true for “American Celebrations” of everything from major occasions, such as the fourth of July, to myriad Hallmark holidays like Mother’s and Father’s Day. We do sometimes think of ourselves, with some justification, as a contrived, cultureless country, swept together in the middle of Modern history out of the tired, poor and huddled masses of the planet. To Erin, however, that’s just not giving ourselves enough credit. For all that we have no state religion, which is bound to be a good thing, it could be said that, for some majority of us, America itself is a religion, with its flag waving, pledge of allegiance, relentless exceptionalism and the thousand little folk-sacraments we see and observe all around us. We’ve got every kind of god or demigod; Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Bogeyman under the bed, Guardian Angel, Fairy Godmother, you name it, sometimes even Jesus. We avoid black cats and Friday the Thirteenth, we won’t walk under a ladder or step on a crack, we don’t believe in ghosts but we’re afraid of them. It doesn’t matter whether we actually believe in any of these things, only that they are there in our folkloric consciousness. They are all there in what Lale calls “the American Celebration,” a good name for all the American sensibilities which pull us together as a “nation,” versus all the other racial, ethnic, regional, religious, political, linguistic and other differences which constantly conspire to pull all us Americans apart. This is a delightfully written book on a, frankly, rather unpromising subject. Lale has a wonderfully light, painless touch in talking quite frankly about issues which divide us Americans very deeply, and sometimes distress us all. In doing so, she covers a lot of ground, filling in the background lore on all our celebrational traditions. There’s reams of lore cited there, some of it authentic, some obviously the stuff of urban legends. Which is which? You decide. But she’s right; all these commonplace things about us are our honest-to-god folkways, our “American Celebration,” which deserve to be understood and cherished among us.