Holiday Rant

by Bob Sparrow

I was just coming down from my three Three Musketeers high the day after Halloween, OK four, when my Sirius radio started playing Christmas music, my wife started telling me about our Thanksgiving Day plans and our friends were asking me what we’re doing for New Years Eve. I’m thinking to myself, why have ‘they’ crammed these four holidays into the last 62 days of the year?

It’s 62 days of eating candy, then eating leftover candy, then eating excessively large turkey dinners, then eating calorie-rich Christmas meals accompanied by eggnog, wassail or the latest ‘holiday beverage’, and then we’re expected to have the ‘party of the year’ to celebrate the coming of a new year. If I had lost any weight on the variety of diets I’ve been on throughout the year, that ship set sail with the Three Musketeers. Which is how New Year’s resolutions get created I guess.  You know, historians aren’t really certain about the actual birth of Jesus anyway and the Gregorian calendar, which we follow, is only one of many available calendars so I say move Christmas and New Years to the summer, where at least we can get out and walk off a few calories.

Thank you, Columbus!

And as long as we’re moving holidays around, there’s probably some we could get rid of altogether. Columbus Day immediately comes to mind – a holiday that hangs just outside of that 62 day window, on October 14. This is a strange one to me since Christopher Columbus never set foot on U.S. soil, yet for years we’ve celebrated this Italian’s ‘discovery of America’ along with his other bogus discovery – proving the world wasn’t flat!   Columbus Day’s status as a holiday has been sketchy at best.  Some states don’t recognize it, but rather eschewed this holiday for ‘Indigenous People’s Day’, which was started in 1992 by, who else, the city of Berkeley.  It does make me wonder why we don’t have a national holiday to celebrate Native Americans.  I guess we just don’t want to be reminded of what we’ve done to them.  But Columbus is vigorously celebrated in many Italian communities, just as the Irish observe St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, which was the day St. Patrick died in AD 461 – not sure how that became a holiday. To most of us it’s just another time to hoist a drink – preferably Irish whiskey or beer.

So we have the Italians and Irish taken care of and the Afro-Americans with the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, which is the ‘third Monday in January’ – I wonder if that’s how it read on his driver’s license. This federal holiday was first celebrated in 1986, but Arizona didn’t recognize the holiday until 1992 when the NFL boycotted the state’s Super Bowl. New Hampshire was the last state to adopt the holiday in 1999. Three states, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, today, celebrate both MLK’s and Robert E. Lee’s birthday on that third Monday in January – apparently hoping that the ‘south will rise again’.  But the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., at 18%, the Latinos, have no national holiday. Yes, there’s Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated where there are heavy Hispanic populations, but that commemorates a short-lived victory of Mexico over France. I guess Taco Tuesday is going to have to do until we celebrate a birthday of someone like Cesar Chavez – his birthday was March 31, but it can easily be changed to ‘the last Monday in March’.

It used to be that we’d celebrate Lincoln’s birthday on Feb 12th and Washington’s birthday on Feb 18th and if I’m not mistaken, back in the day we got both of those days off school if they fell during the week. Now they’ve combined them so that we have President’s Day on the third Monday in February. But it is not just to celebrate Lincoln and Washington birthdays, it is to celebrate ALL presidents. So next February don’t forget to wish Rutherford B. Hayes a happy birthday.

I hate to pick on another religious holiday, but have you ever wondered why the date for Easter keeps moving around? Well, exactly when we celebrate this highly religious holiday is based on the position of the sun along with the phases of the moon.  For the record, Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox (approximately March 20-21 in the northern hemisphere), when the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equator – seems rather voodoo-like to me for such an august occasion.

Then there’s the ‘BBQ Holidays’, Memorial Day, when we break out the BBQ, Independence Day, when the BBQ works its hardest and Labor Day, after which we put the BBQ away. I think the meaning of these holidays gets diluted in all the BBQ sauce and the attendant adult beverages, so I’m suggesting that these holidays be moved away from summer.

Oh yeah, there is another holiday in these last 62 days of the year, Veterans Day; yep, that’s this week, but don’t feel bad if you didn’t remember it, most people don’t. This is only a holiday that celebrates the men and women who have defended the freedoms that give us the right to be such a diverse and dysfunctional country.

Go wild and crazy this week and celebrate by thanking a veteran for his/her service.

GO AHEAD – MAKE MY (NEW YEAR’S) DAY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Thank you, NCAA!

Thank you, NCAA!

Last year I wrote about a Scottish New Year’s tradition – Hogmanay – that I assumed no one still living celebrated.  So it has been startling to see more than 200 people from around the world have Googled the event and were directed to our blog site.  Heck, I don’t pretend to be the Emily Post of Hogmanay but apparently there is not a lot of resource material on how to celebrate New Year’s like a true Scot.    So it got me to thinking that maybe this year I should shine the light on other obscure new year celebrations from around the world.  After all, in the U.S. the NCAA has taken care of our celebration by kindly scheduling the two semi-final BCS bowl games on New Year’s Eve.  Personally, I’m not a fan of going out on New Year’s – or staying up until midnight for that matter.  I’m thrilled that on Thursday night I will don my formal sweat pants,  start a fire, open a bottle of wine, order a pizza and watch football.  But in case you’re interested in doing something a little more exotic, we here at “A Bird’s Eye View” offer up the following suggestions from around the world.

Jump in to 2016:  In Denmark,  people celebrate December 31 by climbing up on chairs and at the stroke of midnight, they leap off of them to signal their “jump” into the new year.  I don’t know about you but I’ve been at many a NYE party where climbing on the furniture was de rigueur but that was 30 years and 30 martinis ago.   At this age I have visions of my friends struggling to even get up on a chair, much less jumping off one.  Heck, they have had broken hips and torn ACL’s taking their dogs for a walk.  Perhaps all of the climbing and jumping should be left to young Danes with strong bone structure.

Talk to the Animals:  In both Belgium and Romania, farmers start the new year by talking to their animals.  What separates the sophisticated Belgians (who really should be focusing on their chocolate) and the crazy Romanians is that in Romania they believe that if the animal communicates back then it portends bad luck for the year.  I don’t want to seem critical here but I think that if you perceive that your cow is talking back to you, bad luck is not your biggest problem.

A flea marketer's delight

A flea marketer’s delight

Re-decorate:  In South Africa, it is a new year’s tradition to throw old furniture out the window on January 1.  When I first saw this photo it reminded me of our old neighborhood on “bulk trash day”.  It’s amazing what people throw out – and how little of it is still on the street after the midnight raid of Ebay enthusiasts.  In any event, for those of you who wish to re-decorate but are getting some resistance from your spouse, you can just throw everything into the street on Friday and claim that you are channeling your inner South African.

Eat, Drink, and Eat Again:  In France, the beginning of a new year is marked by eating a stack of pancakes.  Not those leaden “All You Can Eat” type down at the Waffle House, but light, fluffy cakes that melt in your mouth.  I eat a stack every Sunday at our local café so I guess I will be right on trend this week.  In Estonia, they celebrate January 1 by eating as much as they can  – they refer to it as “Eating in Abundance Day”.  Quality is of no concern, they are driven by the sheer quantity of food they can consume in a day.  Given that as the criteria, I think I’ve been celebrating Estonian New Year’s for the past month.

They could fight for the WWF

They could fight for the WWF

Duke it Out: Finally, my favorite tradition – the Peruvian fist fight.  Every December in a small village they celebrate the Takanakuy Festival, whereby residents engage in fist fights to settle their differences.  Brilliant!!  Seriously, how many of us have wanted to haul off and slug somebody when they’re being annoying?  Just this morning in the grocery store there was a woman who trailed me around the store speaking on her cell phone in a loud voice about her lawsuit against her employer, her daughter’s no good boyfriend, and on and on.  Despite several dirty looks from those around her (mostly me) she persisted.  Now if I lived in Takanakuy, I could have simply given her a good jab to the left jaw and no one would have blinked an eye.  It’s probably just as well we don’t celebrate this tradition, it being an election year and all.  Things are dicey enough.

 

I hope this has gotten your creative juices flowing on how to celebrate New Year’s.  Whether you choose to watch football, gorge, jump off a chair or talk to your dog, my brother and I wish you and yours a very HAPPY year ahead.

 

 

 

The Holiday ‘Season’ Schedule

by Bob Sparrow

onions2

Creamed Onions – YUCK!

When I was growing up, back when the earth was still cooling, there was no such thing as a ‘Holiday Season’ – there was Christmas. Thanksgiving was when Jack, Suz and I, had to get ‘slicked up’ and go to our aunt and uncle’s house and eat creamed onions and turkey that was cut so thin that it only had one side. New Year’s was a non-event that meant Christmas vacation was nearly over and we’d soon be headed back to school.

Things have changed a bit since then; with the coming of television, the ‘Christmas Season’ was created and subsequently commercialized.  More recently, with the advent of political correctness, the ‘Holiday Season’ was born, to make sure we weren’t excluding anyone from the season’s buying bonanza.

holiday2

Unoffensive holiday symbols

  The way I see it, it’s a five-game ‘season’ where first, everyone gets on their game uniform for the ‘kick off’ at Halloween, followed by Veteran’s Day (which apparently is a non-league game), then into the meat of the schedule with Thanksgiving and Christmas and concluding with the ‘finals’ on New Year’s Eve.

So let’s look at the ‘season’, game-by-game.

mask2

Cheery Halloween mask

Halloween

How it started: It was originally an ancient Celtic religious celebration where they would bless and convert Pagans.

What happened? We took the religion out of it and now we just try to scare the bejesus out of kids with ugly masks and scary movies, while we bless and convert non-diabetics to diabetics with a sugar over-load. The American Dental Association also thanks you!

Veteran’s Day

vets

AMEN!

How it started: In 1919 Armistice Day was created marking the end of World War I on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. In 1938 Armistice Day was declared a legal holiday and in 1945 it was changed to Veteran’s Day to recognize and celebrate all veterans.

What happened? Years ago Veteran’s Day was just a scrimmage, but fortunately, it’s become a little more celebrated in recent years, possibly due to the numerous conflicts we’ve put our brave men and women in armed forces through, but it’s still no Halloween! Personally, I’d eliminate Halloween and put greater emphasis on this holiday by having kids dress up like veterans and seek out service families and veterans to ask if they can help them in any way. Schools could ask their students to write a letter to someone in the armed forces to thank them for their service, but don’t count on it replacing the sanctity of Halloween anytime soon.

Thanksgiving

Tday

“Sorry about taking your land”

How it started: The Pilgrims wanted to celebrate a bumper crop year as well as show their benevolence toward the Native Americans, specifically the Wampanoag tribe, by inviting them to a feast and tossing them a drumstick after they vanquished them and took their land. OK, maybe they didn’t just take it; they did give them $24 worth of beads and trinkets for Manhattan. Subsequently the Wampanoag tribe suffered an epidemic, thought to be smallpox brought over by the English, which helped them establish their settlements. Years later, the King Philip’s War resulted in the deaths of 40 percent of the tribe. Most of the male survivors were sold into slavery in the West Indies, while many women and children were enslaved in New England.

What happened? Well, wouldn’t you continue to celebrate such a joyous occasion? We do, with a feast of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and pies of various fruits and nuts on Thursday and when the ladies realized that the men were spending the rest of the weekend watching football, they said, “Ladies let’s go shopping!” and thus ‘Black Friday’ was created. But even with its calorie-busting meals, football overload and guerilla combat shopping, Thanksgiving still has the redeeming quality of bringing families together – and that’s a good thing!

Christmas

Xmas

Remember Christmas?

How it started: The first recorded date of Christmas was in 336 AD (No, I wasn’t there!); a few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the December 25th.  Although with shepherds in their fields at the time of the birth, it probably wasn’t in the winter at all.

What happened? Because this is the big cash cow of the season, the decorations and carols start in late October and continues through New Year’s Eve and beyond; it’s the ‘Big Game’. Yes, it’s been commercialized almost beyond recognition, but if you work at it, you can still find or better yet, create the ‘spirit of Christmas’, by helping those less fortunate or just experiencing a young child’s unbridled enthusiasm when they see that Santa hasn’t forgotten them. So work at finding the ‘spirit’ this year, as Vince Lombardi once said, “Giving isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!”  OK, maybe I made that up.

vernal

When do you want the new year to start?


New Year’s Eve

How it started: The year had to end sometime!

What happened? When the year really ends is a long story involving various calendars, but suffice it to say that historically a bunch of politicians and church folks have moved the start of the year around since the beginning of time, mostly just to suit their purposes. So don’t get too fixated on December 31st as the end of the year, it was originally the vernal equinox (around the end of March) and it could go back there if it will make someone some money or get someone elected.  No matter what the date, it’s always the time of year when we lie to ourselves about improving our lives ‘next year’ with some unrealistic resolutions.

This Thursday will mark the halfway point in the season, so relax and enjoy the ‘halftime show’ – it’s usually at the ‘kid’s table’.

Happy Thanksgiving!

RINGING IN THE YEAR WITH…HOGMANAY?

happy hogmanayI was reading about how Americans celebrate the holidays the other day, expecting to have my cockles warmed.  Instead, I ended up with just the slightest amount of indigestion.  All I can say is, people are very strange.  We’ve moved a long way from Grandma baking cookies and Dad reading “The Night Before Christmas”. I learned about pickle Christmas trees, binge-watching COPS one night of Hanukkah, and farting contests on Christmas Eve.  Really. It got so weird that when I read about one family that left cookies and rum for Santa I thought of them as the most reasonable people in the article.  So I skipped over the American customs (or as I came to call them, “White Trash Traditions“) and commenced reading about holiday celebrations around the world.  In comparison to the U.S., they were pretty tame – not a farting contest among them.  But then I stumbled on a tradition I’d never heard of – Hogmanay.  It is the Scottish word for “last day of the year”.  How could I not have heard of this?  My father-in-law was born and raised in Glasgow.  I checked with my husband.  Nope, he’d never heard of it either.  So I thought it was completely bogus until I did some further research.  I’ll say one thing after boning up on Hogmanay- those Scots know how to celebrate.  So in case you need a bit of inspiration for your New Year’s Eve, here is everything you need to know about hosting your own Hogmanay celebration.

First (and it may already be too late for  some of you) Christmas is marked by a very sedate family get-together and is a time for reflection and prayer. Then December 31 rolls around all hell breaks loose. Hogmanay is marked by a loud, joyous occasion celebrating the birth of a new year.  An important element of Hogmanay celebrations is to welcome friends and strangers to your home, with warm hospitality and, of course, a kiss to wish everyone a ‘Guid New Year’. ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young New Year on a happy note.  So far, I’m really liking this Hogmanay thing.

 

A "lucky" First Footer

A “lucky” First Footer

One of the most important traditions of Hogmanay is called First-Footing. Once midnight strikes and the calendar flips to January 1st, all eyes await the arrival of the year’s first visitor. The person who crosses the home’s threshold first is said to be a predictor of good fortune in the year ahead. To ensure good luck, a first footer should be a dark-haired male (think George Clooney). Fair-haired first footers were not particularly welcome after the Viking invasions of ancient times (just ask Tiger Woods about Elin Nordegren).  To “first foot” a household empty-handed is considered grossly discourteous, and VERY unlucky.  Traditional gifts include a lump of coal to lovingly place on the host’s fire, along with shortbread, a black bun and whisky to toast to a Happy New Year.  Other than the whiskey it all seems a bit dodgy and frankly, like something was grabbed at the last-minute.  But who is to judge?  We’ve all had to raid the pantry for a last-minute hostess gift and I guess a black bun is as good as anything provided that the “black” isn’t due to mold.  I must say however, that this list of gifts does nothing to improve the Scots’ reputation for being cheap.

In the event that you just aren’t up for hosting a Hogmanay celebration,  or you only hang out with blonde women, I will share with you a Sparrow family tradition that has held us in good stead for many years: Pop’s Ice Cream Fizz.  I wrote about this delicious concoction previously when describing our Christmas morning traditions.  Believe me, it has put a roseate hue on what might otherwise have been some testy moments.  Occasionally Pop would also fix it on New Year’s morning as a special treat.  So as a public service to our subscribers, here is the recipe:

 

Pop, near 80 years old, still making magic

Pop, near 80 years old, still making magic

POP’S ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes

Add 6 jiggers of gin

Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream

Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg.  Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.

Just blend for a couple of minutes, and voila!, you have a nectar from the gods.  And for those of you who don’t like gin, please don’t turn up your nose.  Believe me, the ice cream masks the flavor.  You will want to bathe in this stuff.

So as the year ends, whether you celebrate with Hogmanay or Pop’s Ice Cream Fizz, my brother Bob and I wish you and your family a very happy and healthy New Year.

 

NEW YEAR’S: THE TRIUMPH OF HOPE OVER EXPERIENCE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

2011 was not a good year in our household.  This year some health issues, the death of a friend and the roller coaster stock market caught up with us.  And yet, here I sit on New Year’s Eve, convinced that 2012 is going to be a GREAT year.  I’ve polled a few of my friends and their sentiment is exactly the same – they all are looking forward to 2012 with great optimism and hope.

What is it about human nature that we completely suspend reality at the beginning of each year?  We forget that life’s road is bumpy and that each year brings some amount of problems and worries.  We forget that at our age, every doctor’s appointment holds the possibility of being a life-altering event.  And we forget that the world around us (especially in an election year) can be a very hard place to find comfort and joy.

We look at January 1 as a fresh beginning, the slate wiped clean of any problems, and only great possibilities spread out before us in the coming 12 months.  Granted, for those who face overwhelming health or personal issues this may not hold true, but most of us are in complete denial about potential pitfalls in the coming year.

Today we believe that all things are possible.  Today we believe that the new year will bring us contentment, good times and we will finally be able to discard our “fat clothes”.

So here’s to a wonderful 2012 to us all.  May your year be filled with good health and good times.  Happy New Year!!!!