It has been a long time since I got excited by the idea of the Fourth of July or attached any significance to its meaning other than it being a generic holiday on which we got to see the fireworks. There are things I very much like about the fourth of July. I like BBQs. I like fireworks. I like holidays in general. But these things (except the quite vague association of fireworks in war I suppose) are not at all tied to the central idea of the the Fourth of July in American history. When I was a kid there was all manner of indoctrination in school relating to The Declaration of Independence and its meaning to us as a nation. We were told the stories of our supposedly heroic ancestors that bravely fought the British and established a new democracy (republic actually) based on enlightenment principles (in theory, if not always in practice). There was always a sense imparted to us (as it must have been imparted to the children of other nations) that we were special, chosen somehow to lead the world by our glorious example of decency and courage. As I have grown older, I have come to be very suspicious of nationalism and displays of so called patriotism. I have seen people use these to deny rights to the other, to divide rather than unite, to be tribal and clannish instead of global in our thinking. Perhaps it is because I have lived or traveled to so many places and seen so many distinct cultures, but what moves me is not the parochial, it is the universal. Emphasizing that which unites us in common humanity, and holding true to values that respect everyone’s rights, not just those of a privileged few. Modern life is all about finding balance between our individual selves and the independence we have or think we have vis-a-vis the family, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the nation, humanity, life and nature, the planet and ultimately our place in the universe. We are deeply connected to all of these, interdependent. All parts related to our giving and our taking. If our actions are clumsy in one sphere, the others will be affected. Sentience is such a rare gift, and sometimes it can seem like we are completely alone inside of it, but we must strive to reach beyond the confines of “in here” and get “out there” to connect with the rest of life. That is where the most beautiful fireworks really are.
Thanksgiving is the ideal holiday for me. I love it, and every year I love it more. It has all the elements of the perfect holiday. It is about getting together with people you love and sharing a great meal and expressing gratitude. The size of ours changes a little from year to year (this year stood at 18) as people bring friends and partners home with them at various times, or as more children are born. But the good feelings are always there, and we never miss an opportunity to remark on what we are thankful for in our lives, or to let each other know how much we love each other.
I remember when I was a child really being embarrassed by my loud, neurotic, political, sometimes overbearing family. But over the years, as I have come to accept myself more, I have come to love my family more and more. Not only do I not gloss over our idiosyncrasies, I now find that I revel in and enjoy them. Each one of my family is a special part of what makes thanksgiving wonderful. I find that Thanksgiving in particular brings out what is best in each of us. It is the one time of the year that we are all committed to being together and renewing the bonds of family and friendship.
Contrast this with the consumer orgy that is Christmas/Hanukkah in the US. Here is a holiday that is completely about giving and getting, expectation and disappointment, recrimination and regret. It is all about materialism, and I think it stinks. It is the holiday that reinforces values that I find most problematic in our culture.