I’m sitting on a bus heading back to Boston from DC, where I spent the last two days with my aunt, uncle, cousins, cousins’ significant others, and cousins’ kids. I had a great time, and even though I didn’t want to admit it, it was definitely preferable to spending the holiday alone. Also, I got to go to a speakeasy on Wednesday night and drink old, Ragtimey drinks, some of which come with raw egg in them.
But I am not a big holiday person, even when I try to be. There are some things about a person inherent and unchangeable, and my inability to care about books and movies about war/military strategy or to get excited about holidays is something I can’t change, even when I know that it’s an award-winning film or that the entire rest of the world thinks it’s interesting that once a year at midnight it becomes not only a new day and a new month, but also a new calendar year. I’m not big on commemorative or celebratory things that are deemed obligatory. I didn’t go to my college graduation and a year later, I still don’t care; even if I weren’t someone who had never had the option of celebrating Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend I don’t think I would be big on celebrating it; I haven’t really done much for my birthday the past few years because it’s always awkward and an exercise in finding out how little my friends care about me. I much prefer showing people I care, and being shown they care, in random ways that mean a lot more because they come from the person just thinking about you and doing something special, not seeing a calendar date and feeling like they’re socially obligated to do something. And it’s not that I’m anti-capitalist or trying to make a stupid hipster statement; I have honestly tried to get excited and buy Halloween costumes and I always end up not following through, even if I mean to.
Maybe it’s that I hate disappointment, and no holiday is ever as sweet and cuddly as it is in the movies. Maybe it’s just because holidays are so cute, and being cute either a) confuses me, b) grosses me out, or c) strikes me as incredibly insincere. Maybe it’s because I very easily get socially worn out by big groups and big to-dos, and holidays are full of those. Maybe because it’s that I don’t like ritual, even though I do like both routine and tradition.
Yeah, I like tradition. I like going to Rosh Hashanah services and eating apples with honey to commemorate the Jewish new year. I like taking stock of what my plans are for each new school year. I like going to Shabbat services a few times a year and recognizing the prayers and songs. I like going to Old Pascua with my family the Saturday before Easter and eating fry bread and watching the procession. I like quiet, unobtrusive traditions that are generally followed but don’t necessarily have to be.
I think that’s why the only holidays I still get “excited” for, by which I mean I am generally okay with whatever happens at them, and I actively help prepare for them, are the two food and family holidays–Thanksgiving and Passover. Passover was a bit of a disappointment this year because everything good and Jewish has gluten in it (except, thankfully, Nadine’s Bakery almond horns for dessert), but I still enjoyed reading our picture book condensed Haggadah and making jokes with everyone. I was worried about the actual eating part of Thanksgiving, especially since it wasn’t happening at my parents’ house, but I was able to eat nearly everything, plus I made mustard vinaigrette from scratch, practiced my chef’s knife skills, and otherwise participated and bonded with my cousins, who I’ve never known that well because they lived far away and are much older than I. Dinner was fun and casual, and dessert happened next to a bonfire, with almond milk hot cocoa and gluten-free cake and frosting, set to a soundtrack of the Julieta Venegas station on Pandora.
I did not find family bonding remotely important when I was younger, nor did I fathom that hanging out with family members could be just like hanging out with friends, but with the added bonus of being able to make jokes about genetics and memories. Also, not being the youngest or the oldest anymore, I got to do adult things with the adults, plus I got to be the cool, older cousin who taught the kids how to make origami boxes, showed them how mustard is an emulsifier in salad dressing, and wrote stories with them. It was better than any planned gift exchange or power hour or crappy chocolates in a heart-shaped box ever could be.