29 Apr 2012 No Comments
Our Holiday celebrations reflect who we are. They provide us with an opportunity to connect with the unique cultural heritage that through its traditions forms our memories, our history and our identity. Celebrate yourself!
Article by: Kala Ambrose
Inside each of us at some point in our life, we begin to question our identity. This speculation and musing stems from the desire to establish a connection with something greater while aspiring to answer the age old question that sages, philosophers, fools and scholars have pondered since ancient times. The question that mystifies, delights and frustrates all who attempt to answer it is, Who Am I?
For most of us, the starting point in answering this question, is to first look at our roots and where we come from. The passage of time allows us to reflect upon our history. The holidays and festivals established in our culture create memories with friends and family which are integral to defining who we are and what we revere. Each new generation pulls from these experiences and moves forward taking what we hope, is the best of our heritage to provide a foundation from them to derive comfort and a sense of belonging in the world.
Each country has their unique cultural heritage, formed over hundreds of years of experiences collectively and individually. For the mass majority of people in the U.S., our ancestors arrived here as strangers in a strange land and keeping a bit of their identity and cultural customs helped ease the homesickness on holidays and kept happy memories alive. The U.S. is described as the ‘great melting pot’, rich with a vast mix of cultures enhancing the vibrancy and variety of the country, some of which I just celebrated while returning recently to visit my home state of Louisiana to spend some time in the great city of New Orleans.
As a nation, the U.S. may have one of the most unique cultures, due to the fact that the culture focuses on hopes and dreams for the future, based on the belief that with hard work, perseverence and a bit of luck, one can accomplish anything they desire. As Americans, we are by large, self-made people. For most of us, our ancestors came to this country with little in their pockets, full of hopes and dreams to create a new life. The results have ranged from spectacular to catastrophic, but most would willingly choose one day of freedom in their newly adopted country than to live where they were previously. Self-made people by nature are gutsy, they have that spirit and drive to follow their dreams and using their talents and wits, they succeed. They also have pride in who they are and remember what their parents taught them about respect for those who paved the way before them.
People in the U.S. identify themselves as Americans, but a great majority also love to connect with where their ancestors came from before moving to the United States. Ask any Brit here on vacation, that as soon as an American hears their british accent, they immediately have to ask what part of England they are from and then explain that their great great great great grandfather came from England. This almost always is both amusing and perplexing to the Englishman, who would never think of asking an American in London a similar question. Though back in the 80′s, I did have a conversation with a British woman over the phone, who when finding out that I was living in Texas, wanted to know if I personally knew J.R. and the rest of the Ewing family from the tv show Dallas.
Here in the U.S., we share our pride of our cultural heritage the American way – by throwing a block party and everyone’s invited. I’d like to go on record in saying that this custom may be one of the most important cultural influences of our history. From Mardi Gras, to St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest and Cinco De Mayo, Americans love to celebrate and participate in these events around the country, regardless of their own ethnicity. With carnival beads around my neck on top of my Kiss Me, I’m Irish tee-shirt, to eating moon cakes and dressing on occasion like a St. Pauli Girl, I’m as guilty as the rest of them.
Opinions on these celebrations are as diverse as the people in our country. Some feel it cheapens the historical significance of events, by diminishing them to the level of food, alcohol and party favors. Many decry the fact that Americans by large are ignorant of history. I’m not so sure that’s the case, I’ve encountered people all around this country, who have wonderful stories of history, of their home towns, their states, their city blocks, and their farms. History is relative and varies in importance in conjunction to the situation of each individual.
What most Americans understand is the importance of ‘living in the now’. Our ancestors taught us this lesson, they did not focus on what they had left behind or how things used to be, they just rolled up their sleeves and got busy creating their new life. This may be one of the greatest legacies that they have taught us and when we follow our dreams, we honor them and our heritage, both from the past and present.
As a history buff, I’ve spent a great deal of my life studying comparative religions, cultures, philosophies and ancient rites and rituals. I do this because I enjoy it and it’s a personal passion. I also understand that one does not need to know the entire history of a culture in order to participate in a festival. If we really desire to delve into historical significance, let’s begin with the fact that Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico. It is not celebrated nationally in Mexico and has nothing to do as many think, with Mexico’s Independence Day, which is on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo acknowledges the victory of the Mexican army over the French in a battle in Puebla. Surprised?
So why celebrate Cinco de Mayo? The real question may be, Why not? Commemorations like Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, and Octoberfest present the opportunity for Americans to share their cultural pride, heritage and customs with others. These celebrations have inspired school districts across the country to connect these events with lessons plans in geography, history, dance, art and music. In some cities, museums exhibitions and events are connected to the festivities, along with parades and city wide events. And, yes, in many bars and restaurants across the country, people will gather to drink a Guinness on March 17th, a Beck’s in October and a Corona on May 5th. They will raise their glasses in a toast, some in memory of their ancestors, others with pride of their heritage and many who are living in the now, in recognition that we are all one, a band of brothers and sisters called humanity. Here collectively on earth, as we seek to understand who we are, there are days when we still feel like strangers in a strange land. Life passes quickly and for many Americans working hard every day, taking the time to pause and break bread, or corned beef and hash, brats and sauerkraut or chicken enchiladas, with a few friends is a time honored tradition. As an optimist, I see the possibility of greater cultural respect and integration with each generation who shares and participates in these events.
So join me in shaking your maracas and margaritas on Cinco de Mayo. Dance with joy, share some enchiladas with a friend and since we can’t all get to Cabo, Cancun or Cozumel today, live in the now and make it your fiesta getaway for a day. Personally, I’m all for more celebrations and suggest that we root next for Bastille Day, July 14th, right after we make Mardi Gras a national holiday!