Thursday, 31 December 2015

Holidays in both the New World and the Old World

Starting with Thanksgiving and moving through to Christmas and New Year.....


Back in the UK there is no formal Thanksgiving holiday.  Probably the nearest thing is Harvest festival, a pagan celebration assimilated by Christianity (aren't they all?) and now fading somewhat, though schools still observe it with collections of non-perishable foods which are then donated to charities.  As a child I remember going to the village church where we would take our edible donations, sometimes home grown, sometimes canned goods, up to the altar where it would be stacked up to show the generosity of the parish, before being taken to those that needed it.  There were special hymns sung to celebrate the safe bringing in of the crops, and growing up in a village surrounded by largely arable farmland these were particularly resonant.  Over my adult life I have lived in areas less in tune with the natural cycle of planting, growth and harvest so it is refreshing to once again recognise the importance of nature's bounty even though the consumerist experience of Black Friday seems to be overshadowing the original history of Thanksgiving.

For our part for Thanksgiving 2015 we joined our first State College family friends for their celebrations for the second year running (first time for me though) and had a wonderful meal of turkey, sweet potatoes, Yankee stuffing, Texas stuffing, cranberry sauces, the most delicious buttery potatoes and other good things.  It was a lovely evening of family and friendship with the six children and five adults all having fun, eating too much, doing puzzles, playing games and sharing conversation and music.

Feast of St Nicholas aka Sinter Klaas

The world certainly seems to have become smaller,  as at the beginning of December I was sat in a Mexican restaurant in a small city in Holland and it seemed quite normal.  The wide acceptance of international cuisine is a far cry from the occasion of when one of my brother's grammar school friends asked "Is your mother foreign?" after being served lasagne and salad at our house in the early 1980s. Oddly enough in our market town in SE England the predominant immigrant culture at that time was Italian, thanks to the local WW2 prisoner of war camp having held mainly Italian soldiers some of whom returned as soon as they could after the end of the hostilities.  Further south in the county there was a significant Polish population seeded by the Polish airmen who flew from the local airfields for the RAF.  There were also representatives of the Windrush generation too, adding to the mix of cultures making up our small corner of England.  As children this was seen as normal, in our eyes our classmates with odd names were as English as we were, we had grown up together and that was that - multiculturalism working on a local scale because it just didn't occur to us that  there was any other way.

I was in Holland on 5th December, better known over there as Sinter Klaas, or the feast day of Saint Nicholas (a Greek/Turkish bishop), who across the Atlantic has been transformed into Santa Claus, and as I ate a young lady dressed as Zwarte Piet visited the tables and photographs were taken of her with smiling children. Zwarte Piet is Sinter Klaas's assistant or sidekick in a similar way that Santa Claus is helped by an elf, now nobody blinks an eyelid at Santa being accompanied by somebody dressed up as an imaginary being, but Zwarte Piet is being tarred (sic) with the brush of racism and yet when you look into the history of the character he wax probably based on a Moorish servant boy travelling with Saint Nicholas from Spain where the gift s of oranges and pomegranates were collected.  In Holland Sinter Klaas is the big gift giving/receiving day for children and the shops were full of seasonal goodies - the marzipan filled pastry rolls were particularly good!


Two Christmasses into our American life we are still celebrating in the UK style -  our tree and decorations go up the weekend before the big day, which was the first weekend of the school holidays back in England and was when decorations went up when I was a child.  This year we have also put up external lights with an animated LED "tree" to brighten the evening gloom in the US style.  Mincemeat was made just before I set off for Europe and has since been made into to dozens of mince pies! Christmas Eve was spent doing as much preparation for Christmas Dinner as possible to stop Christmas Day itself being too frantic to enjoy.  At bedtime stockings (actually pillow cases this year as we couldn't find the stockings) were hung on doorknobs by the boys, gifts were placed beneath the tree and we went to bed with a sense of exhausted achievement and anticipation.

As ever Father Christmas brought silly gifts from around the world and put them in the "stockings" - this year he seemed to have visited Holland and the UK as well as finding oranges from California ;)  After opening the gifts a full meal of turkey, Brussels sprouts, peas, carrots. roast parsnips, 2 sorts of stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, gravy and pommes dauphine was consumed, followed by mince pies once we thought we had enough room for them. I had even managed to find some UK Christmas Crackers complete with paper hats, silly gifts and dreadful jokes!

In the UK the day after Christmas is know as Boxing Day and as a child was spent with the extended family. As the closest family members are now over 1000 miles away and the rest over 3000 miles we shared our evening with our friends from Thanksgiving and ate even more food.......

New Year

....which brings us to New Year's Eve and I for one am looking forward to 2016 being a more settled year than 2015, which had some big ups (me finally getting to the USA) and downs (the loss of my much loved mother-in-law) and lots of undulations along the way.  A New Year and new start in a new country (yes I was here on New Year's Day 2015 but knew I was heading back to the UK for the final pack up of home and business, which took way longer than anticipated), I hope it is a good one.  The Christmas tree and decorations will stay up until Twelfth Night (another UK tradition) at which point they will be packed carefully away until December 2016 when they will have the chance to brighten another mid-winter.

What with travel and other stuff I didn't actually sew any gifts for Christmas this year, but did manage to make some table mats and matching coasters, which have at least been both decorative and useful.