My first blog was going to be called “A Year Without Holidays” because I spent the holiday season of 2008 abroad, traveling away from home and family, and I felt like those holidays weren’t real ones, basically just more expensive hostel dorm rooms. (Not exactly my real sentiment, but it’ll do for now.)
This year I am still abroad, but no longer travelling, and I found my holidays.
I spent Thanksgiving 2008 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and although it is still one of my favourite places, that day I was standing in a basement grocery store, deciding if splurging on goulash was worth it or whether to go with basic spaghetti again, when suddenly I realized I was far from home and family, surrounded by people who had no idea it was even a holiday (for me anyway) and I was choosing between shitty goulash and boring spaghetti on Thanksgiving. And it sucked. It was no longer fun. I stood in front of that damn counter, fighting the water in my eyes while I ordered goulash I no longer wanted (and ended up forgetting in the hostel fridge).
It was one of the two lowest moments of my trip, I think of my adult life in general, and I was not looking forward to Christmas. Life is a tricky bastard though, and that Christmas I met Katrien, the woman I now live with in a snow-buried studio apartment Belgium.
So this year, I spent Thanksgiving back in the States with my family. And Christmas will be here with hers. And although I still basically missed Halloween (it’s not very popular here…yet) I had my first Sinter Klaas, the Belgian tradition where an old white-bearded guy with elf helpers brings presents to kids. Except he has nothing to do with Christmas, is rake thin, sails up from his home in Spain, and his elves would be inadmissible in America since they are basically in blackface, “Black Pete” being the chief among them, face blacked by the soot of your chimneys. (I particularly like that he lives in Spain. I have a mental image of when that detail was added, some kid asking “Daddy, where does Sinter Klaas live?” The dad frowning for a second, “shit, I dunno…um…Spain? Yeah, Sinter Klaas lives in Spain, son.”)
And New Years here involves carolling and something like trick-or-treating but without the tricks and costumes, going house to house singing and giving treats and hot drinks.
And even more! This year I will spend (weather permitting) New Years Eve in Scotland, where that day is Hogmanay, whose roots go back to Norse winter solstice rituals and incorporate Gaellic elements of Samhain, with local customs varying from throwing fireballs into the harbour in Stonehaven to carrying decorated herring (yes, the fish) in Dundee. The most common tradition though is “first footing” also known by its more charistmatic Gaelic name “quaaltagh”, where the first person to cross a house’s threshold sets the luck for the year. The first-footer (I’m not making that term up) often brings symbolic gifts like a coin (prosperity), salt (flavor), bread (food…not exactly symbolic, that one), coal (warmth), or alcohol (good cheer…cuz that’s how Scots roll) and is in turn given food and a hot drink.
So in 2008, Halloween was sadly forgotten, Valentine’s Day (happily) ignored, and Thanksgiving a new low of crapitude. But in 2010 I got my Thanksgiving turkey, Sinter Klaas put gingerbread and marzipan in my shoe, and maybe I can first-foot our hostel on Hogmanay. If two years ago was the year without holidays, then this is the year of twice as many.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!
Fijne Kerstdagen en een Gelukkige Nieuwjaar!
And what the hell: Feliz Navidad y un Próspero Año Nuevo too!