Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Seeking "Real" Holidays

Ana Jarvis
Mother's Day. Easter. Independence Day. Christmas. Every year the blog-sphere echoes with the shrill voices of pundits lamenting the loss of "real" holiday spirit. Mother's Day, they warn has been co-opted by Hallmark. Ostara is about spring, not chocolate. Christmas celebrates Christ, not Santa.

On one hand, these objections rise out of a very real fear of consumerism. Mother's Day is, after all, one of the biggest spending holidays, and the holiday's founder, Ana Jarvis was was arrested for protesting an overly commercial Mother's Day Celebration in New York.

On the other hand, the desire to protect the "real" meaning of holidays arises from the same elitism that fuel debates about the "real" meaning of words. Language purists argue that people do not "share" on Facebook because sharing traditionally/technically "implies that one as the original holder grants to another the partial use, enjoyment, or possession of a thing." Sharing a slice of pie and distributing a video link, they argue, are two very different actions. I've heard a class of English majors explode with contempt for Alanis Morissette’s "Ironic." Nothing, they howl, in that song is ironic! They measure the song  by a single, literary definition of irony. Undoubtedly "Ironic" is not ironic like Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is ironic. Morissette does not the "use . . . words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning." She uses ironic like most folks use ironic in daily conversation: to describe "incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result." **

Purists, defending both holidays and words, attempt to institutionalize an academic, traditional, or personal meaning at the expense of common usage. Yet if an idea isn't made "real" by every-day practice, what makes it real? Do people really want to surrender their traditions and language to an outside authority? The pundits and purists do holidays a disservice by implying that the ways well-meaning people celebrate is wrong. They characterize the loving daughter as a brain-washed, compulsive spender. They berate the chocolate bunny-eater as a heretic.

Holidays, like language, evolve. They change and grow with the people who celebrate them. Mother's Day emerges from the memories and experiences of people honoring their mothers, from a million tiny, personal traditions. Cards. Candy. Breakfast in bed. A white carnation. It's all good. It's all real.

Mary Cassatt's "Breakfast in Bed"

** Definitions from Merriam-Webster On-line

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