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Nostalgia and Winter

December 14, 2014 2 Comments

festive headgear

festive headgear

Christmas is such an anticipated holiday in America that it leaves lasting impressions on children. If I dig deeply into my memories of Christmas past there are certain phases that marked my history of celebrating.

  • My earliest years, 1-4, all holidays were at my grandparents’ farm

The house was small and the farm very big.  My grandmother made bread and cookies all the time.  At Christmas she cranked up the volume and included cinnamon rolls.  We played Chinese checkers, regular checkers, and Parcheesi.  Between baking with my grandma and playing games with my grandpa all my wishes came true.  I don’t know what my parents did, but I was always thrilled to be in Lincoln, Arkansas at the farm.

  • School in Pennsylvania had many holiday traditions, as well as snow.

Pittsburgh had excellent quality building snow, so my friends and I constructed forts and had snowball wars. We had sleds, toboggans, and ice skates.  At holiday break we were free to slip and slide all over town in our preferred method.  We did have caroling in the 50’s with people showing up at your house singing and very cold.  You were to invite them inside and give them hot chocolate.  My mother made fruitcake (of which I was never a fan) and pralines (which were the best).

  • Venezuela is a very festive place, and Christmas is a time to party with aguinaldos

Special songs of the season, often with no religious connotations, are sung by bands of traveling musicians.  The parranda grows as the host at each home visited joins the group and travels to the next home.  Sometimes extemporaneous lyrics are created to flatter the host or the neighborhood.  My parents were huge appreciators of the art form, and my dad was the boss of all the people in the petroleum camp.  For this reason our house was the last stop of the night.  The bar would open and the musicians would stay for hours, playing harps, rhythm instruments, cuatros, and guitars.

  • In my own home as an adult I invited friends for potluck parties for many years.

I had neither funds nor interest in entertaining like my parents had done.  I did still like the large crowd festivities, but preferred to make the occasion pot luck.  I still love this form of celebrating because each cook showcases something special that they want to prepare.  I also like the progressive dinner, which goes from house to house for each course.  Those seem to have fallen out of favor today, but they were fun while they lasted.

  • Holidays at resorts all over the world

There is something excellent about paying others to do all the preparations and clean up for holidays.  I spent wonderful holidays all over the world, in Chamonix, Swiss ski resorts, and one superb Christmas in Maui.  If you have the extra cash and don’t mind traveling at peak times (when I did it the peak was not so hard to take)  being in another land with room service can be a really good way to make the holiday season.  Instead of making effort at home, the energy and money is spent on the travel itself.

  • December at home

We like to stay close to home and make very little fuss about our December now.  I am working hard to clear space and give away old items rather than acquire any new ones.  I use seasonal plants for decorations these days because I just don’t bother with electric lights and other time consuming ways to change the decor.  We have no tree, and each year I give away more ornaments and outdoor decorative items.  Not only are we happier during the season, we have nothing much to strike in January.  This year we may zip up to Scottsdale for a meal at Posh and the farmers’ market.  This is our family trip with our dog, who adores the FireSky Resort.  The low key way to celebrate suits our lifestyle and our budget.



Equinox Hilaria

March 20, 2013 6 Comments

Cybele drives the lion chariot

Cybele drives the lion chariot

At the Equinox everyone on earth has about the same amout of darkness and light. The sun is close to the equator as it shines for about 12 hours on all parts of the earth for a day. This seasonal shift is of significance to most native cultures. It signals either a lengthening or a shortening of daylight in the months ahead. It creates the conditions for spring planting or fall harvest, depending on the hemisphere in which you live. For a single day, however, we all have the same amount of light and dark in our experience. The literal meaning of the word equinox is equal night. Many calendars begin around the vernal equinox. Romans began the new year on the Ides of March, Astrology uses 21 March as the first of the year, as the Sun moves into Aires. A new year celebration makes sense at this time, as do celebrations to honor rebirth.

The Roman goddess Cybele was associated with rebirth in one of the first Spring break resurrection parties ever held. Romans were all about blood, so they used real bull blood…no chalice of red wine for them. Hilaria was a celebration of resurrection and eternal life held in Rome on the vernal equinox to honor Cybele. She ruled dangerous animals, fertility, and rebirth. She protects civilization. The fact that she is resurrecting her son, Attis, who is also her lover is not a big deal in Roman terms. These things happen in pantheons all the time.  After all was ceremonially  brought safely back to life  Hilaria commenced in a frenzy of joy and mirth.  We do not have any evidence of chocolate bunnies, but they were festive in their own Roman way, with orgies, and chariots drawn by lions, castration, and other stuff they liked. Violets are the flower of the day, since the blood of Attis when he died the first time became the violet we pick in the spring.  Do not hesitate to decorate your eggs with violets if you want to get down Roman style this year.  Unlike our own Virgin Mary, this mother drives a lion chariot, while holding a pineapple, and is on the violent side, so, caveat emptor.

Roman goddess Cybele

Roman goddess Cybele

Cybele with her lions

Cybele with her lions


December 14, 2012 1 Comment

My friend Steffi Burger is one of my German teachers. She was actually born in Germany but will soon join the Swiss club, the most exclusive and hard to join club in the world. She has lived there for about 20 years I think, and fully knows Switzadootch. She will never be able to speak like a real Swiss because she uses German as it was learned in Stuttgart, and will not be able to hide that ever.I am in a category of Swiss speaking much worse than Steffi. I do not speak or read hochdeutch, based on my theory that it has nothing to do with the language and culture of Switzerland. I have tried to learn this very funny and dialectic local code by absorbing it. Results vary. Sometimes I can read stuff and discover the meaning, and others I am totally off course when I read. They capitalize all nouns, which I joke about and have never found to be all that helpful. This is why….the noun is likely to be an entire paragraph. They just love to combine words in their language. I often really like them just for the way they sound. My new favorite word in German is weltuntergang. It is giving me flashbacks to the very first things I learned to say. My friend Beth and I learned a phrase from Ursula of Berlin, the most fashionable woman we had ever met. She taught us to say, ” Let’s be friends. The world is a village.”( Luts uns freude sein. die welt ist ein dorf ) It was my only full concept so I used it in response to everything and everyone. I knew some nouns and the verbs to ice skate and to ride a bicycle. But if the nouns I knew neither ice skated nor had a bicycle I had no way to make any coherent sense with my vocabulary. Welt, or world was in my initial lesson. Now the welt is going under in a single word. Wow, so much as happened, but one thing that has not happened is my magical acquisition of German or Swiss languages by osmosis.

I asked Steffi about parties in Langweiss or Zurich to celebrate the end of the world. She said this had not caught on as a festivity. It is sometimes hard to explain humor when the cultural background is missing. It is complicated to tell someone that the end of the world pot luck party you are excited to attend is to mock the people who are actually afraid of the end of the world. Gives new meaning to you had to be there. I spent the summer of the World Cup partying with the Swiss when the event was in held Germany. I could never convey to an American how the Euros feel about soccer. You truly have to be there to see what they do. Same with Fastnacht, it is inexplicable to people outside the culture. There are intense reasons to celebrate that are generational and not yours if you are born elsewhere. So the Swiss really do Advent, and appear to be skipping the idea of weltuntergang celebrations. I hope the world will not end before I get the chance to go back to Switzerland to party Swiss style. Stay neutral, my friends.

Greeting the Season

November 25, 2012 1 Comment

The feasting of Thanksgiving behind us, we are hurdling down the holiday barrel of laughs toward either a cheery/jolly time or a close encounter with debt and depression. Which do you have at holiday time? Since much of the shared consciousness of holidays takes place on screens now, rather than in person, we can more easily show a public facade of festive fantasy while freaking out in deep desperate disorientation. I personally am neutral. I don’t drive much any time of year, but for the next 5 weeks I will be in my car even less. I do not like all the high anxiety and consumer madness in the streets. There is more distraction than I would like on the road, so I stay home.

My parents used to send out letters in Christmas cards to establish a contact with people they knew around the world and basically mislead them about how happy they were. This copying and addressing by hand, then stamping and sending the revised versions of their lives was an important way they stayed tribal with all the accepted norms they wanted to keep. They lived in a time when the exterior show was of the utmost importance. Not sending Christmas cards would have made them uncivilized. I still have a couple of cards printed with my name on them that I sent to people when I was in elementary school. They are kind of non sectarian, with a picture of a fawn and Happy Holidays. I have never felt the need to send cards or give gifts as a social imperative. The big build up, the relatives crashing at the house, the decorate and mandatory clean up was not my style.

I like to cook special treats that remind me of winter to give to friends and neighbors at this time. I make some spaghetti squash latkes for Chanukah, and all kinds of ginger concoctions. This year I am featuring nuts and everything that I can buy at the Caravan Market. This specialty foods shop right down the street from my home has all manner of goodies and spices from the middle east and north Africa. I can bike there and bring back exotic extreme foods and spices in minutes. They have pistachio baklava, halvah, and Swiss chocolate for sweets. My own version of holiday cheer is a little extra money and effort spent on food and drink. Shopping local for me is fun and easy. I prefer supporting my neighbors in business to trying to find my car in the parking lot at the mall.


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