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On celebrating culturally irrelevant holidays

April 7, 2010

Since the first time I celebrated Christmas in Japan by having a tree with presents at home while missing my family rather than getting a hotel room with a significant other, KFC, and a Christmas cake, I realized how isolating it can be to adhere to your own cultural norms while in a particularly foreign environment by yourself. It makes things especially confusing when that environment distorts your beloved traditions into its own, such as Tokyo being bedecked in lights top to bottom while not a soul knows what Santa is actually supposed to do, and the somewhat outmoded habit of calling single women over 25 “Christmas cakes,” as after the 25th they’re past their prime and no longer worth much. Thanks, Japan.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July were even more irrelevant and almost always limited to the minuscule ex-pat community and their sympathetic Japanese friends.

With Easter in Israel, things are a little less extreme. Jewish and Christian holidays overlap in practice if not in ideology, as people give gifts in December and stop eating certain things between March and April. Passover coincides nicely with Easter; I read Exodus growing up and am familiar with the story, so there’s nothing foreign there. Bread is my favorite thing in the world and could easily be what I choose to give up for Lent, so why not share that experience with everyone for one intensive week? And we all believe in thorough spring cleaning, so that’s familiar too.

Easter Day this year coincided with שביעי של פסח (Shvi’i shel Pesach, the seventh day of Passover), the day that commemorates the parting of the Red Sea, a miracle both Christians and Jews believe in. Easter commemorates a miracle as well, the resurrection of Jesus, though Christians are alone on that one. Even if my holidays are technically irrelevant here, it still means that between my husband and me, we celebrate twice as many memorable moments in our respective heritages as most other couples, and what’s the harm in that?

Coloring eggs together last year in Boston, where it was more culturally applicable (and easier to find supplies).


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