Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday, oh, holiday! And the best one of the year

Now that the old “holiday season” has begun in earnest, it seems that the end of the year is approaching rapidly – it’s Thanksgiving on Thursday, and Christmas is already more than in the air. There’s something contagious about the sense of holiday fun that’s circulating at the moment, something that isn’t just about excitement of a potential white Christmas. Certainly, the weather plays into it - there’s ice-skating on
outdoor rinks, hot chocolate and pumpkin spiced lattes in the coffee-shops, self-decorating autumn trees, icicle-patterned chunky knit sweaters and red tartan skirts (I have one, and I’m loving its Christmas vibe.) But there’s something more in the air than the chill of winter. To explain it, I think we need to go back in the year a little and leave Christmas and “Turkey Day” for another time.

If there’s one thing that Americans do well, it’s a “holiday.” Now, we Aussies are great at turning on the cricket and putting our feet up on a public holiday, and taking a sickie to make it a four-day extravaganza of nothingness, but that’s not really what I’m talking about when I refer to American holidays. American holidays are real events, people look forward to them, travel for them, decorate and dress up for them. In part, we suffer from the fact that we just don’t have as many occasions to celebrate – July 4th and Thanksgiving are the standouts, but I think we’re also sadly lacklustre about the ones we do have and aren’t taking the opportunity to join in the fun.

As each holiday has come around, I’ve been put in mind of the wonderful Fred Astaire/Bing Crosby movie Holiday Inn, in which the song White Christmas first appeared. Strangely, it is not White Christmas that makes the rounds of the inner cavities of my skull now, but a sweet little tune that goes something like this: I could say that you’re homely, just as homely as pie, but this is Washington’s birthday, and I’ve got to say you’re beautiful, because I can’t tell a lie. It’s the kind of quaint holiday that’s celebrated in grand style – well, in song and dance – as the film cycles through the calendar. It’s the kind of holiday that could only be celebrated so enthusiastically in America.

So let’s go through the calendar. One of the first holidays I experienced in the US was Valentine’s Day. I spent February 14th traipsing around romantic New York City, having an intimate lunch at the noteworthy Delicatessan café in SoHo, munching Magnolia Bakery cupcakes iced in frosty pink and sugar cupids, and seeing that holiday cash-in, star-overloaded movie Valentine’s Day. Okay, I did all this with a close girlfriend who was visiting from home, but that’s not the point. The point is, Magnolia Bakery were pumping out these tasty, gaudy, pinkalicious cupcakes, and customers couldn’t get enough of them. Everywhere, people were embracing the day, whether with the BF or just the BFFs – the share-house I was living in had been lavished with glittering pink cut-out hearts, ribbons and fluff; shops had bowls of M&Ms in gradients of pink and red; restaurants were full of the young and old in twosomes sipping on bubbly (and just a few gatherings of jaded twenty-something females who were, I suppose, embracing the day for their own purposes by more than sipping the bubbly). In the middle of Times Square there was a heart-shaped ice sculpture for picture opportunities, and an NBC reporter was interviewing passers-by about their Valentine’s plans. Can you imagine this happening in the streets of Adelaide? Melbourne even? I think many young Melbournites would be just a little too cynical, a little too cool and world-weary to jump into a photo booth with their beloved and grin toothily at the camera against a pink-hearted background. If they did, they'd be doing it to be ironic, to poke fun.

Frankly, going home to Australia Day just isn’t going to cut the mustard after having witnessed the Independence Day parade and fireworks in Washington DC, having seen New York’s Rockefeller Center bedecked with US flags, and heard reports of the fireworks and barbecues on Cape Cod beaches. For weeks before the event, nine out of ten private homes were decked out with gusto in red, white and blue garlands, flags, ribbons, and eagles. It was nationalistic, sure, but in a rather inspiring rather than threatening manner (and, I suppose, in a East Coast, New England context, which may not be the norm). Why is it that there’s something faintly, well, bogan and race-riot-esque about a plethora of Australian flags, but the stars and stripes on mass just makes you want to swear allegiance? There is something to be said for the enthusiasm with which many Americans adhere to symbols of loyalty and belonging. A college sports event, with its cheerleaders, crowd attired in official college apparel, marching band and banners, evokes so much more pride and devotion than its Australian equivalent. Americans aren’t afraid of the tacky, the overly enthusiastic, the patriotic, and it’s really surprisingly fun, it’s intoxicating.
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