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A post about Thanksgiving because you haven't read enough of those yet - Tactical Ninja

Nov. 25th, 2011

09:36 am - A post about Thanksgiving because you haven't read enough of those yet

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Today my flist is all about Thanksgiving. This isn't surprising, the English-speaking part of LJ is dominated by the United States. I'm trying to get my head around what Thanksgiving is and how it relates to holidays we celebrate here. I mean, I know what it's about in terms of history and I'm aware that there are a bunch of different ways of looking at it. But it also seems to be a very unifying thing. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it seems everyone (or at least everyone whose life I'm lucky enough to glimpse) celebrates it in some form, and that there are some important commonalities, one of which seems to be eating a lot, turkeys are involved apparently, a family gathering, and something about football.


Our day of acknowledging colonisation is Waitangi Day, February 6. It's a public holiday but there's generally no feasting involved, it's more an official type holiday where politicians make speeches, activist groups protest, folks like me get tied up in knots about what/whether we should be celebrating given that Maori still get shat on on a regular basis, and other folks grump about how we're all New Zealanders now and what the hell do we care about this WHY-TANGEY thing anyway*? But we take the holiday - who wouldn't?

Our day for stuffing our faces is Christmas Day. Easter is about chocolate but isn't the Day O Feasting. It's just past summer solstice when we have Christmas (something my expat USian friends say they have a lot of trouble getting used to), and every Kiwi grows up with this weird cognitive dissonance about it given that carols are all about white christmases and one horse open sleighs and roasting chestnuts on the fire and cards all depict warmly-dressed people in winter wonderland scenes, while we're cracking a cold one round the barbie in our togs at the beach. For me, strawberries and sunshine are evocative of Christmas, and my memories of it as a kid are full of haymaking and bodysurfing. But yeah, the traditional lamb roast with mint sauce and roast spuds, kumara and pumpkin are still adhered to by many folks - so we stuff ourselves with stodgy winter food at lunch time (followed up by pavlova - kiwifruit topping optional) and then lie around groaning for the afternoon. Sometimes there's a barbecue for the evening meal.

NB my family was never all that traditional, and couldn't see what the deal was with some people in the household (usually the women) spending the entire day working to create this giant meal that usually only got half eaten, then cleaning up and eating leftovers that get increasingly gross for several days afterwards. Hence, our traditional Christmas meal was eggs, beans and chips, followed by ice cream. Took about 20 minutes to make and 10 to clean up, no leftovers. Lunch was get your own. We spent Christmas hanging out as a family doing stuff.

NB Number 2 I have noted in my very noob-level observation of Chinese holidays in Hong Kong that for pretty much all of their festivals, stuffing yourself full of food is important. I wonder how a Chinese person might view the non-food-based holidays in NZ, or indeed, as Dr Wheel and I were wondering yesterday, whether you can get the ice cream moon cakes here? Cause NOM**. Doop de doo...

Anyway, there's no holiday here that coincides with the start of the football season (is this why Thanksgiving has something to do with football?) - mostly I think because the season seems to go all year round these days, probably again because our national sport of rugby is traditionally a winter sport, and New Zealand has had to adopt at least part of the Northern Hemisphere seasonal calendar in order to be able to play internationally.

So our family, food, football and controversial colonisation issues holidays are all separate. And we don't have a holiday in winter at all. I mean, we get Queen's Birthday Monday off work, but that's right at the start of June (the very beginning of winter here even though it's almost to the solstice) and again is an official holiday rather than something people actually celebrate - and then we don't get another holiday until Labour Weekend at the end of October (spring). So we don't have that cosy family gathering in the warm, where it's actually nice to be in the kitchen because the kitchen is warm and everyone stays indoors because the weather's crap out.


I think this is an oversight on the part of New Zealand as a society. It sucks that we go for nearly five months through the darkest, yuckiest time of the year with no holiday to break it up. Some of us celebrate the solstice and others Matariki, but neither of these is officially recognised with a day off and both are still in June/July - too early. We need something in late August/early September I reckon. There's been some talk about creating a 'New Zealand Day***' but I doubt folks would adopt it as a feast day, and am wondering if we need something blatant like Spring Feast Day or some such.

I can't be the only person that kind of envies the US winter feast holidays and would happily adopt something like that here given the opportunity. Any thoughts?

* yes we have those people, much as it hurts to admit it.
** Not so much the lotus paste ones, but I suspect that's my Western palate being a wanker.
*** Problematic as. First, many think it should replace Waitangi Day (WUT). Never mind the erasure involved in calling it that. Aotearoa Day, anyone? And still, is this something we should celebrate?

Dr Wheel got on a plane last night. He'll be landing in Hong Kong in a couple of hours. There was a Joel-shaped indentation on the bed when I got home. I might have laid in it.

Comments:

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From:t_c_da
Date:November 24th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC)
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Erm, I think the long winter bleakness with no holidays must be a southern hemisphere thing, as the Aussie also go from Queens Birthday to Labour Day with no holiday...

In my youth it was also the longest school term (of 3) to boot, for whatever that may mean...
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From:tatjna
Date:November 24th, 2011 08:51 pm (UTC)
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Yep. I don't know what they do in other SH commonwealth countries, but ours seem to have adopted this Suffering Makes You Noble attitude to holidays in winter.

Maybe because a lot of the planning for our societies was done from England, by people who thought that this was a Pacific Island and therefore the seasons weren't really a thing because it's all tropical n shit.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 24th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
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Actually I considered mentioning that the UK expats seem to deal with it better, given that that's my experience. Or at least the US ones mention it more.

My folks, also UK expats, thought it was bloody awesome that they could go swimming at Christmas.

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From:tatjna
Date:November 24th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
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And your lot was from the south, too. Positively tropical down there, so I'm told.
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From:pombagira
Date:November 24th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
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i have give some serious consideration to taking time off in the middle of the year, out winter.. this year i was very very lucky in that i went to canada, in aug, so had a pretty good break from the no days off winter of new zealand, but still *ponders*.. taking a few days off at the end of september or beginning of oct, and cooking heaps of food and having everyone over to eat said food would be pretty awsome.. a nice tribe holiday!!

also, there is interesting theory about how the act of sharing food is very community building as it is one of those shared experiances things.. hmm.. *ponders this*
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From:clashfan
Date:November 24th, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC)
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The US holiday that more white folks get tied up in knots about is Columbus Day, for reasons that should be obvious. Some groups have taken to calling it Indigenous Peoples Day, which I rather like.

Regarding above, that your UK ex-pat pals don't whinge as much as the US ex-pats . . . might be a product of the stereotypical 'stiff upper lip'? Or Yanks thinking the world should revolve around us--in this case literally? It's an interesting observation, at any rate.

A *very* brief peek at Maori history suggests to me that agriculture was not high on their list. Thus, no harvest festival? I probably oughtn't blather so much on things about which I know so little.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 24th, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC)
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I'm gonna be up front here and say I don't know and I haven't researched harvest festivals among Maori, but I'd hazard a guess and say two things:

1. NZ has a very varied climate north-south being long and skinny, so there wouldn't be one unified 'time of harvest' to celebrate.

2. Maori did grow crops, most notably kumara, but they only grow in some places and my own experience with them suggests that the harvesting and storage of kumara is a protracted process that may have formed a 'festival' in and of itself.
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From:bekitty
Date:November 24th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
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Yup. Kumara harvest was the big one. I think it's around the autumn equinox from memory, which would put it in late March.

Which leads me to think: why not have a party to celebrate the spring equinox in late September? That's when the kowhai comes into flower. Maybe we could call it a kowhai festival? :)
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From:tatjna
Date:November 24th, 2011 10:58 pm (UTC)
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I can believe that. I've certainly experienced kumara digging in April, which means that matariki would be up by the time you'd finished storing them (at least using traditional curing methods it would).
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From:vernacularity
Date:November 24th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
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I pick winter solstice. Cos my birthday's round then. And heaps of people do a midwinter christmas these days.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 24th, 2011 11:48 pm (UTC)
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Winter solstice is the Youth of Today's birthday so we always celebrate it.
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From:t_c_da
Date:November 24th, 2011 11:59 pm (UTC)
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You timed that well, didn't you?

The only problem with mid-winter Christmas celebrations is that they are in June, right after Queens Birthday, and before Winter has properly got into its stride...
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From:tatjna
Date:November 25th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
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It's a family thing. I was born on Beltane.
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From:downwardlashes
Date:November 25th, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
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Awesome, that's Zinnia's birthday too!
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From:tatjna
Date:November 26th, 2011 03:55 am (UTC)
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Is hers in June or December? Also, yay for solstice babies! ;-)

And on your other comment, yeah we are weird about food as bonding, but I guess given that in Ye Olden Tymes we probably needed to share food to survive, it's likely a thing that our brainmeats crave in some deep way.

I wonder if kiwis are like that about pavlova?
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From:downwardlashes
Date:November 26th, 2011 06:08 am (UTC)
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I realized after I commented that you meant June; Zinnia is a December baby. Still, solstice is a cool birthday.

Hmm, maybe it's something like, "I have food with these people, so therefore I must ingratiate myself tolove them and stay with them" or something like that. Maybe it's related to how people have the strange urge to give food to babies and small children for no reason?
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:November 25th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
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I arrived!

Unfortunately there was no Wendy shaped indentation on my bed and I went straight to work. x
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From:tatjna
Date:November 25th, 2011 01:19 am (UTC)
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I'll indent YOUR bed!

(when I get a chance)

Glad you made it safely <3
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From:polychrome_baby
Date:November 25th, 2011 01:53 am (UTC)
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I have shifted through so many damn religions that I do not give a shit what the people around me are celebrating and feel completely free to celebrate whatever damn holiday I please. I generally celebrate all four main calender points, many Jewish holidays, national holidays, pagan holidays, a few Catholic ones (like Mardi Gras, since my husband is from New Orleans, and I started off Catholic as a child) and whatever else seems festive and interesting (like Yuri's Night on April 12th, and Pi Day on March 14th, for instance).

You don't really get the Jewish or the pagan holidays off, so while I was actively within each culture it was common and normal for "my" people to be celebrating things that my neighbors, or other random people, weren't. It kind of teaches you that your culture is made up of your family (blood and chosen) and chosen groups, and that otherwise it doesn't matter. This works well for the modern widely flung cultural groups that I count myself part of nowadays. "My" people are all over the damn place. In any given month, there is likely to be a celebratory feast or function. Sometimes a few.

A fairly large part of the US Thanksgiving is doing a big inventory of the things and people that you appreciate and are grateful for in life. This is especially true among the people I know who celebrate it. It is very similar to Rosh Hashanah in that right. Mend the fences that have been broken or neglected, get in touch, be grateful that you've got what you've got, be thoughtful about how to help others.

Oh, and as for my family, we had duck today. I sure as hell wasn't going to have a big ass turkey for 3 adults and 2 kids. My dad used to have this thing where he'd get the biggest turkey he could find, and even if we had guests, we'd literally be eating turkey leftovers a month or two later (freezers are the devil). So, turkey isn't generally a "thing" in my family since my parent's split up. We've had everything from veggie lasagna to enchiladas. My husband, being thoroughly Southern, believes firmly in frying up a turkey, but it's really quite a pain in the ass, and he couldn't see doing it this year for our much abbreviated guest list (generally we have around 12-15 people altogether, but a lot of people were out of town this year and we decided not to host the big one).
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From:helianthas
Date:November 25th, 2011 02:55 am (UTC)
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I'm gonna echo what polychrome and clashfan said -- Columbus Day is more of the "yay discovery of America!" holiday (celebrated in my experience generally either by people a) not giving a shit beyond being psyched there's no work and/or annoyed the banks are closed or b) people getting angry and boycotting the holiday by keeping the workplace open and/or protesting, etc., and Thanksgiving is more of the "Oh thank you Jesus that we didn't ALL die on the way over here and that we have food and aren't going to starve etc etc" That has kind Of lost the Jesus aspect of it and is more a "let's take a minute to reflect on all we have to be grateful for". By, y'know, being with family and/or friends and stuffing our faces with traditional foods.

Independence Day is more of the "let's party cuz we're American, fuck yeah!" and way less healthy foods.

I like thanksgiving but i find having it so close to Christmas a little tough since I like to be with family and it's a 6 hour flight for me. One nice thing about them being close is that you can alternate years and/or inlaws.

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From:downwardlashes
Date:November 25th, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
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I don't "get" Thanksgiving myself, all I know is that the idea of not celebrating it just seemed so very wrong when I contemplated it. Then after we ate yesterday, we let the kids watch some cartoon Thanksgiving specials, and I got this strange heartwarming feeling whenever the cartoon characters talked about turkey and mashed potatoes and stuff, because I knew that when the kids heard the characters talk about doing the same thing they had just done, they would feel some sort of bigger connection. Humans are so weird about food, aren't we?
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