Today’s Valentine’s Day, but also the start of the Chinese New Year, one of many holidays I want to adopt. (I’m not Chinese, but then again I’m not a Marine or a mathematician either… in fact few of the holidays below are really mine! Though I’m definitely a Texan, and an Aggie.)
Holidays are, simultaneously, an invitation to step out of the ordinary whirl of day-to-day life and a rhythmic affirmation of the cycle of the year. Often they carry a useful, annual reminder of a thought or attitude: gratitude, love, freedom. Often, too, they offer a special chance to act in an unusual way: to give gifts, to wear fancy clothes or decorate the house, to eat unusual foods. As such, they are both reassuringly normal and a refreshing change.
You might can tell, I’m big on holidays. I buy Christmas presents year-round (my usual excuse is “I don’t have enough good ideas in December”); I bake heart-shaped pancakes and fortune cookies that carry Valentine messages; every Halloween I turn the front of the house into a spooky cowboy graveyard with a dance of ghosts around the tree.
So for somebody who likes holidays a lot, the regular ones just aren’t enough. Here are some more to help you weave a little extra color into the fabric of your days. (The most extravagantly complete list I’ve seen is at Brownielocks.com.)
Feb. 2 — It’s Groundhog Day, but for a more graceful celebration there is also Candlemas, a Christian holiday in which a procession of lighted candles commemorates the infant Jesus’ presentation in the temple. People bring their candles to church to be blessed, and in Europe, eating crepes is traditional. In France, so I read, family members each cook a crepe while holding a coin, to ensure happiness and wealth for the coming year. And the lovely flowers called snowdrops, white bell-shapes that come up from bulbs at this time of year, are also called Candlemas bells.
Chinese New Year
Feb. 14, 2010 — Traditionally, families prepare for this holiday by cleaning their houses and paying their debts beforehand. I once read that clearing space on bookshelves and in filing cabinets for this holiday allows room for the New Year’s events to come into your life. I love this idea, and it’s also in keeping with “Getting Things Done,” in which the author notes that a crammed-full file drawer can subconsciously deter you from putting things away tidily — as you dread the unpleasantness of trying to stuff in yet more paper.
Clear space for the good things to come, wear red for luck, shed your debts and gather with family!
San Jacinto Day
April 21 — We lost the Alamo, but then we turned around and beat ‘em at San Jacinto. In “one of the biggest military upsets in the hemisphere,” the ragged Texian forces under General Sam Houston avenged the killing of all those captured at the Alamo on April 21, 1836. The Texians took the superior and larger Mexican force completely by surprise, defeating them in 18 minutes. Santa Anna himself was captured the next day, “hiding in the grass and dressed as a common foot soldier.”
Texas history buffs, therefore, celebrate this as Texas’ independence day, and I fly the Texas flag if I can. A re-enactment often takes place, and I have heard a rumor that one year the re-enactors got a little tipsy and let Mexico win.
This is also, not coincidentally, the date that Aggie Muster is held. Originally this was a simple gathering of Texas A&M graduates, held wherever they could get together, often a simple barbecue or just raising a beer glass. Today the ceremonies on campus and in locations around the world are often somber, though beautiful, as a roll call of Aggies who have died in the past year is read out, and their friends answer “Here,” in place of the fallen. It’s a reaffirmation of the fact that once you come to Texas A&M University, you are part of a larger family. And also a lot of the clubs still hang out and have barbecue!
May 1, 2010 — The first Saturday in May is not a holiday, per se, but it’s a great time to wear fanciful hats, drink mint juleps and immerse oneself in the world of the horse. The Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown, and I think Americans always root for a horse to win it all. Early hopefuls for 2010′s Run for the Roses include 2-year-olds Lookin at Lucky, Buddy’s Saint, Jackson Bend, Noble’s Promise and Vale of York. (Noble’s Promise even has a Facebook page!)
June 16 — The day in 1904 when all of the events in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses take place. (The protagonist is Leopold Bloom.) Dublin celebrates the day with walking tours, breakfasts, re-enactments, readings and a dip in Dublin Bay. This year, maybe I’ll vow to finish the book.
July 14 — Celebrated as an annual holiday in France, this is the date in 1789 on which revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison. By the time it was overthrown, the Bastille held very few prisoners, but it remained a major symbol of oppression.
For decades, I threw Bastille Day parties semi-regularly — largely, I confess, because it’s a nice handy day in the middle of summer’s doldrums, well after the bustle of July Fourth but with a long stretch of heat still ahead. Perhaps this year I need to revive it and throw The 17th or 18th Semi-Annual Bastille Day Fest.
National Night Out
Aug. 3, 2010 — OK, it is completely artificial, but I support the goal of connecting with neighbors and looking out for each other. Maybe this is the year I’ll remember to volunteer and host a National Night Out party in my driveway.
Marine Corps Birthday
Nov. 10 — Several of my favorite people are Marines, and so I have a special love for this proud branch of the military. The Corps each year celebrates the date in 1775 when the Continental Congress approved the resolution (drafted in a tavern!) that created two battalions of Marines. Today, I am told, the Commandant’s Birthday Ball is quite an event. So hug a Marine today, if you can find one who’ll let you… Or maybe just make a donation to Marine Toys for Tots.
Nov. 11 — A British holiday more properly called Remembrance Day. Britishers wear artificial red poppies to mark the signing of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918. The poppies are inspired by the haunting poem “In Flanders Fields,” which described the phenomenon of poppies blooming in fields churned up by the Second Battle of Ypres, in which 104,000 men died, many from chlorine gas. Though the observance is British, I am proud to note it was an American woman who began the custom.
Nov. 23 — Contemplate the horror of doing math in Roman numerals, instead of Arabic numbers, and then thank Leonardo Fibonacci (aka Leonardo of Pisa, not the one from Vinci). The 13th-century mathematician popularized math in Arabic, if you will. He also asked this question: If you start with one pair of rabbits, and every month each pair of rabbits produces another breeding pair of rabbits, and all the rabbits start having babies when they reach two months of age… how many pairs of rabbits will you get each month? The answer is a sequence, now called the Fibonacci sequence, which describes a pattern of growth that has been since found in an amazing number of places, such as the arrangement of petals on a sunflower. Read more, including charming diagrams of rabbits, here from Temple University.
Oh, and the day? 1 1 2 3 are the first four numbers in the sequence.
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