Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On Halloween, A Review of the "Holidays"

Since today is Halloween, I thought I'd briefly review some of the "holidays" (using the term loosely, in some cases). I'll start with my least favorite first and work toward the one I like the best; it happens to be the best one for poets, too, in my opinion. Here we go--and don't take offense; if you really like a holiday that I don't, more power to you, and may you write or read a great poem about it:

1. I don’t like the Fourth of July. I know: not liking the Fourth of July is un-American. This kind of thing could have gotten me hauled before a Congressional committee in the 1950s--maybe today, too--who knows? I have two main reasons. I don’t like the interminable noise of fireworks and how such noise terrorizes animals (and there's the problem with fires, too). And if I were inclined to celebrate “the birth” of the U.S., I would probably do it in a more cerebral (and, I admit, boring) way—by meditating on the Constitution and its origins, for example.

2. New Year’s Eve. I used to like this “holiday” a lot, but now I dislike forcing myself to stay awake until midnight, so this is strictly age- and life-style related. I also worry very much about all the drunk-drivers out there, although I do everything I can to stay off the roads. At the same time, there’s really not much pressure to celebrate, so it’s all good, I guess. The Times Square thing was always bizarre for West Coast people because it was tape-recorded.

3. Christmas. I’m ambivalent about this holiday. I rather like a light-oriented celebration in Winter, and the Swedes especially emphasize this part. I also appreciate the celebration of The Birth, just as I appreciate other religious holy days or periods of observance that occur during the same time of year. The shopping part is way out of control; it’s really turned into a kind of national madness. A relatively new Catholic, I tend to like the masses that occur throughout the year, and I like the meditative quiet that “surrounds,” so to speak, a mass. So I did not take immediately to the Christmas-masses, and I learned that many Catholics attend mass only at Christmas and Easter. At the same time, it is pretty cool to see all the children at the mass, and I’ve gotten used to the noise. One simply has to understand and accept that it’s a different kind of mass. I very much enjoy other people opening gifts, as long as they rather like the gift. I enjoy opening gifts, especially if they’re books, of course. Our family has a very eclectic, eccentric collection of tree-ornaments, so there is great quirky pleasure in hauling those out every year. I’m actually in favor of the plastic trees, not just for environmental reasons but because they’re so wonderfully tacky. I haven't been able to convince my family yet, though. My favorite songs are “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “Mary’s Boy Child,” a Jamaican song. I think the best version is by none other than. . . Vanessa Williams.

4. Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving’s okay because family and friends get together. I don’t like the massive meal, and if one has to deal with air-travel at all, Thanksgiving is hopeless. I think it’s probably a good idea to give thanks. I don’t really get a sense that people think much about the alleged Puritan/Pilgrim origins of this holiday, but I could be wrong--and often am.

5. Halloween is good for kids, I think. They enjoy the costumes. I tend to think of “gothic” writers like Hawthorne and Poe. Trick-or-treating has become dicey because the parents and guardians essentially have to accompany the children like a security-team, and there’s a great deal of pressure to buy huge bags of candy. Many college students seem to like this "holiday."

6. Easter’s good for a Catholic, like me. When I was young, we had the infamous Easter-egg hunts, and my father, being competitive, hid many eggs that were never found. That’s kind of amusing, now that I think about it. Probably the eggs were eaten by raccoons that very night. A cautionary tip for cat "owners": lilies are poisonous to cats, many of whom (of which) like to chew on lilies.

7. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday. I like this holiday very much, not simply because of King but because interesting things happen on or near that day in schools and communities. It’s a holiday that’s handled well, in my opinion.

8. Arbor Day. Not really a holiday, I suppose, and I’ve never really celebrated it. I’ve planted lots of trees, but I’ve never planted one on Arbor Day. I need to do that. I think this Day should be turned into a bigger deal, but I don't want to see it commercialized with Arbor Day greeting cards (that would be environmentally ironic) or Arbor Day gifts.

Most trees are excellent, after all, so why not celebrate this Day? I think it’s an especially good holiday for poets, in spite of Joyce Kilmer’s infamous poem with its extraordinarily mixed metaphors. Joyce was a man, as you probably knew, and he died in World War I. Ezra Pound thought there were too many tree poems, and that was 60-70 years ago. I don’t think you can have too many tree-poems, although more of them should probably appear online as opposed to on paper, to “save” trees. My favorite tree is probably the oak. Cedars are very admirable, too, and sequoias are impressive. I planted a sequoia next to a Victorian house we once owned. If all the subsequent owners will leave it there, it will tower over the neighborhood one day, and no doubt many poems will be written about it, pax Ezra.
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