Let’s hear it for stupid, pointless holidays. You know, it’s funny; one of the things that’s weird about america is our lack of a native culture. The native in native culture includes rain dances and chants; but that really hasn’t seeped into american popular culture due to the, you know, genocide and culture-cide of a […]
Let’s hear it for stupid, pointless holidays.
You know, it’s funny; one of the things that’s weird about america is our lack of a native culture. The native in native culture includes rain dances and chants; but that really hasn’t seeped into american popular culture due to the, you know, genocide and culture-cide of a century and a half ago.
The bottom line is, we’re not from around here. We’re gumbo. We’re stone soup. We’re fusion cuisine, a weird mis-mash of elements that don’t always work together as a cohesive whole. We’re a fuckin’ mashup.
What that means is that our traditions, our holidays, our cultural fests and ceremonies, one and all, are borrowed, brought in with a baggage by immigrants from a thousand other places. Our native culture is a shaken cocktail of cultures from other places, most of which is celebrate in a shallow, surface sort of way for no real reason but to celebrate.
Now, I’m not putting down celebration for celebration’s sake. Not in the least. However, it’s a funny thing we do here in america.
Think of our major holidays; easter, christmas, independence day, thanksgiving. Our minor ones; st patrick’s day, halloween, valentine’s day. O these, two – thanksgiving and independence day – have relevant cultural meaning. One’s a harvest festival, both celebrate our nation’s birth.
The others though; all of them borrowings from religions, yet sanitized, stripped of meaning. Who are st patrick and st valentine? Who actually knows, if not raised catholic? Our christmas is a cultural fest of reindeer and santa and candy-canes, our easter is a festival of sunny debauchery for some, candy and colored eggs for others. Oh, sure, we know its connected in some way to some guy who died and came back, but that’s not what the holiday’s about.
Even Halloween is a mish-mash for us, ancient celtic/druid/pagen traditions, arcane and dark, weirdly mixed with catholic saint’s festival days. This one is closer to a native holiday that most others, at least the modern way of celebrating it seems to be. But still, it’s a blender-whirl of traditions from other places and other times.
But the ones that most stand out to be as stupid are those which still bear the names of saints. I’ve talked about valentine’s day before, and though I never finished writing it, has another piece on it this year; about the absurd sanitization of a holiday that’s all about the beauty of physical, carnal love. About how we’ve turned it into a sugar-and-flowers day where hallmark makes bank and kids exchange meaningless bits of paper. A day that’s intended to celebrate love in it’s most physical, carnal sense has the blood and sweat and come drained out of it, replaced with a glucose drip.
And then there’s st patricks day. A day that’s all about a saint that means little to the modern american experience. Some guy named Paddy. So we celebrate it by pretending to be irish, putting fucking green food coloring in our beer, drinking irish whisky and irish coffee, and eating corn beef n’ cabbage, and who the fuck cares? Sure, it celebrates one immigrant group, but why that one? Why not the italians, the french, the scots, the africans, the chinese? Why not the pacific islanders? Why not the people who owned this land before we swept in and slaughtered them?
I am irish. Way back, when the ancestors started coming over here from the horrific conditions an ocean away, my ancestors came from scotland, ireland, england, wales, holland, germany, france, and for all I know every other weird little country in europe. All you need to do is look at me to know I’m a celt. Go look at Mary Queen of Scots and you’ll see has my nose. Go look at those doughy boys fighting wars in europe and you can see my heritage.
That’s my culture, part of it; yet I look at the nonsense of america drinking green beer and singing danny boy and wonder why we all care. Why will we all go out tonight and drink and drive and celebrate when we’re not celebrating anything?
It’s because we don’t have anything real to celebrate. It’s because our culture lacks real, resonant holidays. It’s because our country, with that cursed work ethic we’re founded on, has to damned few holidays at all.
Look at other cultures and start counting the holidays. Asia, Europe, latin America; you can’t seem to look at a calendar page without finding a holiday. Holidays where businesses close, where kids are set free from school. Holidays where people parade and dance.
Here in the USA, we get a bizarre, small handful of holidays where people actually stop working, and apart from that, holidays that are meaningless in terms of our never-ending work calendar. No break for carnival; no break for columbus day or MLK day. No break to celebrate the new wine or the fresh october beer, no break to celebrate our founding fathers. No break to celebrate the native cultures we obliterated in founding this country.
So we make our own. Some saint? Let’s drink. Some other saint? Let’s buy candy. Someone got nailed to a cross? Let’s dye eggs. Birth of a prophet? Let’s cut a tree down and put it in our living rooms and exchange wrapped gifts. End of summer? Let’s put on costumes and beg for candy house-to-house.
Now, understand I’m not in any way lamenting the existence of stupid, pointless, made-up holidays. What I’m getting at is this – we do it because we have to, because we as a culture lack a common framework of background, religion, genetic origin. We have no cultural common ground, so we make one up; and choose the most pointless holidays as our focus points.
St valentine means nothing to modern america. Likely there was no st valentine, or at least not one we can point to as the st valentine. St. Patrick means little more, unless you’re a generation or so from Ireland. He’s just another guy with an ‘st’ in front of his name, or another name on the list of saints to pray to for help in case of snake bite.
I’m trying to think of memorable st paddy’s days in my past. It’s a blur; green beer and irish whiskey, huge steaming pots of corn beef (and how many of us have yacked corn beef post st paddy’s day over the years?). as a child, getting pinched because I wouldn’t wear green (“But I have green eyes I don’t have to,” I’d say, and of course now, I have green tattoos). Drunk, is mostly what I remember; drunk in a forced we’re supposed to get drunk way, not because I actually felt any will to celebrate. Drunk, and listening to Horslips and the Pogues, the Crusaders, the Clancy Brothers, the Chieftains. Drunk on beer and Jamison and waking up not knowing where I was.
It’s a funny collage of blurry memory, And with few key exceptions, the memories come with a shrug. Eh, whatever.
I’d like to say I’ll be going out tonight to listen to fiddles and pipes and dancing a jig in my best kilt; more likely I’ll be sitting home watching Deadwood. No dancing, no piping, no waking up bruised and confused.
Maybe it’s just that I’m getting to be an old fucker, but celebrating nothing just seems empty.
28 thoughts on “Meaningless Holidays in Green”
Unless you’ve got an Irish passport, the Irish aren’t going to say you’re Irish and they scoff at all the fake green and the drinking just because it’s the 17th.
That said, the Chinese do celebrate here. Chinese New Year. Much like St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese get a week off for the holiday (the Irish get the day off) and things get very clear what the nationality origin is at work when only a third of the workforce come in during that week. There’s Cinco de Mayo in full force in central (what natives will call Northern) California.
I like the new banner. I was trying to write something like this last night, about how our culture has no genuine holidays so we make them out of nothing, or rather we take holidays that once had meaning, suck any meaning from them and celebrate the empty husk, but it didn’t sound right. Now I don’t have to, you said it.
I used to work in NYC on 5th Avenue and we all dreaded the day of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We’d all warn each other not to leave the building. Streets full of “I’m Irish for *today*” types, drinking dyed swill and vomiting on the sidewalks. Harassing women, because it’s all “good fun.” I still have much hte same feeling about the holiday today (that and New Year’s): it’s a sham, and just an excuse for people who are too afraid to live with gusto during their regular lives to let out all their pent-up repression in a totally negative and foolish way. America’s St. Pat’s day is nothing like Ireland’s. They think we’re stupid and excessive here.
And to imply that being Irish only means getting drunk…that’s annoying, too. And dying whole rivers green. That pisses me right off.
Much as I love celtic music–and celtic alcoholic beverages–I stay home on St. Patrick’s Day eve. It’s a holiday for lightweights. I’ll go out and drink my hot Irish whiskey and listen to session music with good, appreciative people any other day. But not tonight. Not with those imposters.
I’m with you. I’m going to knit, pack and work on frankensteining a computer tonight. I can taste food coloring and can’t drink green beer.
You describe a rootless, syncretistic, postmodern, mixed-up, commercialized pastiche of a culture. I recognize it fondly as my true culture that I am steeped in.
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that you really do share the genetic heritage of the people in the old paintings, if you learned you were adopted and you had no idea what your exact ancestry was (besides somehow northern European), but everything else about your adoptive family was the same as your family has been, would your Irishness be less important to you? Would it be relevant at all?
Sean, I pretend I was adopted anyway. It doesn’t help. B^)
You know what? I was on your site reading this post and you were on mine writing a comment… psychic or what?
I left you a reply there.
Happy St Patricks Day to you all but it just seems like a big day to get very drunk from what I can see and all that green food colouring must do something to your brains….I quite fancy corned beef and cabbage though.. I went to Dublin last year for a weekend… now those guys KNOW how to party.
I’m gonna be the lone dissenter here. “Culture” isn’t static; it’s meanings change over time. There’s nothing wrong with a mash-up of borrowed cultures – probably most cultures developed this way. They’re just older than teh U.S.
Also, a lot of these holidays are meant for children. I wouldn’t call Halloween or Valentine’s Day shallow – I have wonderful childhood memories surrounding these holidays. Or Christmas, either, and I’m a Buddhist!
People in other countries go through their holidays just making the gestures and grumbling and complaining, same as us.
I just totally disagree with this idea that America has no “culture” because we’ve existed as a nation for only 200 years. What about regional culture? It’s dying out, but it’s there, and was once very strong.
H, I guess what I was getting at wasn’t that we have NO culture, but that our culture is to a great extent a sanitized, empty, blodless amalgam.
Lacking a cohesive common background, we borrow and steal like rats and ravens, picking up the shiny bits and leaving the rest behind.
I’m tired of the shiny wrapping without any meaning behind it. I’m tired of paper hearts and green beer. I want sweat and death and blood.
(Hmm. Ravens. I just had another tattoo idea…)
Careful, I may send my mother a link to this post. 😉 (It’s that good)
Too true, if a bit generalized.
I’m a celt as well (Power, McOsker, Sheahan) and I’ve been to many a party. The best thing about them is the families.
I rather like that one. You raise good points. I find myself asking the same questions, but the I catch myself before I get to cynical and just remember than any reason to dance and be jolly is reason enough for me. We Americans and Canadians get precious little to celebrate – we live to work while the Europeans work to live – so if someone tells me that today is a day to be green and social, then green and social I shall be. Cheers, doll.
You know what they say Mare. It ain’t easy bein’ gr…
“…we borrow and steal like rats and ravens…”
I’m sooo stealing that line from you someday.
And yeah, what a cool tattoo a raven would be. Like, whatsisname, that Norse God guy…
Excellent entry, Karl… xooxox
I think what you’re describing isn’t an American problem per se, but one of modernity. People are also borrowing bits of American culture while ignoring its meaning – there are foreign versions of hip hop fer chrissake. Anyway… to may to, to mah to.
It’s probably also a grass is greener thing – for example, a lot of Japanese people grumble about why they have to do all these stupid things that’re old-fashioned, out of date, and irrelevant to their lives.
H, the fuckin’ grass is fuckin’ greener. I insist.
Circe, spot on. One raven on each shoulder. Hugin and Munin, ‘thought’ and ‘memory’. I just need to figureout if I have space anywhere on my shoulders.
Uh. Valentine’s Day was pretty much if not made up then institutionalized by the daughter of a greeting card magnate. At least St. Patrick’s day doesn’t have this overt crass commercialization at its root.
I think what underlies your post is the peculiarly American paradox of being both individuals and united. We Americans celebrate the power of the One, as much as we revere being exactly like everyone else. We Americans lack the Eastern cultural assumption of interconnectedness is a given, and so we find connectedness as we can, and in doing so feel the need to trumpet what is special about us–our Love, our Italianness, our Gayness, our Irishness, our Whatever.
We Americans have a desperate and conflicting need to both fit in and stand out. St Patrick’s day–in all its drunken, dizzying green and shamrocked glory–illustrates this cognitive dissonance of identity.
Brian: You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re ALL individuals!
The Crowd: (as one) Yes! We’re all individuals!
I have been roused from near catatonia (no, not drink induced, I’m having a shitty week) to respond.
Unless someone else happens to write in from a pub in Dublin, I’m more Irish than anyone else that comments here. I used to live in Ireland. My folks are still living in Ireland. I’ve actually played a game of hurley. We eat our boiled cabbage and potatoes with boiled ham hock, by the way, not corned beef.
And I’m gonna side with Hiromi and be another dissenter.
…sort of. Almost. Look, the green thing is fucked, no two ways about it. But every year I stay in this country the day itself grows on me, and I’ll tell you why. No, wait, I’ll let shane McGowan do it.
I’m sure you know the rest of the song. Hiromi’s right, culture isn’t static, and I’d take that further and adress your need for blood and guts. Most people who actually get blood and guts don’t feel quite so eager for it after a while. In England they still dance the maypole dance – it’s another tween festival that’s really for the kids and morris dancers are fun but kinda silly – which of course is a holdover from the virgin sacrifices of Beltane. The same is sort of true of Bonfire night, another great british festival that has ugly political roots that are only dimly alluded to now in the guy we throw on top of the bonfire after it’s lit.
It doesn’t really matter whether your holidays are “borrowed” or belong in your culture; the longer you have them, the more watered down and tame they become, like a stone step being worn away under thousands of feet. St. Pat’s day belongs to the immigrants who left their homes and families to nearly die on a coffin ship before they nearly died as indentured servants building a railroad before they lived in shitty tenemant buildings where their kids got TB and starved and life turned out not to be a whole lot better over here and they discovered that the thing they’d left behind was more dear to them and more a part of them than they thought.
It’s been a while since anybody actually got to die themselves as an indentured servant on the Railroad, but it’s an experience I’m happy to pass up on. I have enjoyed the experience of, y’know, voluntarily exiling myself from my family to go start a new life somewhere else. I didn’t drink or wear green on St. Paddy’s, but I did think of my folks just a little. And I did appreciate, to a tiny degree, that there was a st.Patricks day.
In fact, the only thing that bothered me about it at all was the riduculous excess – colouring entire rivers, puking in the streets. And that, I submit, is the most truly American thing about st. pats. Or any other holidays celebrated over here.
catatonia? Isn’t that in, like, spain?
Mmm. Spain. It’s warm there. Let’s go.
I hear what yer sayin’ Buck. It’s just that I’m so tired of holidays that consist of shiny paper decoration with no connection to what’s being celebrated. We reduce our holidays to nothing and celebrate them by wearing a color and drinking until we fall down.
Or maybe I’m just tired of not caring.
It’s warm there? I’m in. If enough of us go at once we can probably get France to surrender.
I think you’re tired of not Caring. It’s funny you should mention spain, because their festivals are significantly better thtan most peoples’ in the blood and Guts regard. There’s the running of the bulls. There’s also the tomato festival, something I really want to go and experience someday.
Part of that reduction you’re referring to is north Americansim, and it’s a byproduct of capitalism and the need to market the everliving shit out of everything. I think it’s tied to the excess that sometimes results.
Yep, Definitely spain. I gotta work on that visa.
Buck, my significant other is Irish and here on H1-B. Why the hell aren’t you on holiday? 🙂
I’m about ready to start carrying my passport on my back pocket – someday I’ll need to make that quick getaway when the right yes comes.
The origin of the holidays doesn’t matter. The “holiday” in and of itself has no intrinsic meaning, but the meaning varies from person to person and also over time.
Nice. Elvis expresses my thoughts on March 17th into perspective.
Do people really know what they are celebrating?
People have NO fucking idea, Overman. But that’s a general statement, not just on the topic of holidays.