Today was an ordinary day. It had its own unique weather, its calendar date, and a history of what I did, or didn't, accomplish. But it wasn't a holiday. Today there were no parades, no fireworks, no wrapped gifts, no pumpkins or flags.
Very gradually, so we didn't even notice, we became a culture of holidays. I remember when Thanksgiving was one day and Halloween was one day; St Patrick's Day, New Year's, Valentine's Day... each just one day. But now the holidays fill weeks or months of time.
Each night, I walk around my block with my dog. We often walk late at night when it's quiet; I don't know what she's thinking, but I walk and think my own thoughts, and I look around me.
I have lived here a very long time, and I know the patterns of the people: the thin, stooped man who sits in the kitchen, eating promptly at 1 a.m., always with fresh flowers and a bottle of wine on his table and a row of tomatoes on his windowsill; the old woman who lives in the corner house who sits outside late at night, with a knit hat over her ears, reading a book under her porch light, no matter how cold it is; the young doctor who gets home at midnight, or later, and stands outside his home to smoke a cigarette; the couples who watch huge flat screen TVs, visible through the curtains of the little Tudor houses.
I've noticed that with every year, my neighbors decorate the exteriors of their houses for more and more holidays, and each set of decorations is displayed longer than the year before. This year, orange Halloween lights, yard cemeteries, and spider webs appeared at the end of September. When the Halloween decorations came down, Christmas decorations immediately went up, the beginning of November.
A few people put turkey cutouts on their doors, but most of them went right from Halloween witches to Christmas lights. A gay couple around the corner kept their tree until mid February - all dressed up in its bulbs and tinsel finery in the picture window. The neighbors next door to them leave their Christmas lights up all year, defining the outline of their house with a bright white glow.
This year there were Valentine's Day lights, too - red hearts flashing on doors. And cloth banners now fly from short posts stuck into front lawns: "Welcome, Spring," the bunny says. Later, when the bunnies come down, American flags will appear on patriotic holidays. It seems like there is never a day without holiday decorations being visible.
Why not? When did it become mandatory that every day has to be a holiday? Do we need these month-long holidays as markers in our lives, for remembrances? Do we need each day to be a holiday for it to be significant?
Today was an ordinary day. Except for a couple of bunny banners, the houses were bare of decorations. But the man who eats at 1 a.m., and the woman who reads outside, and the doctor who smokes his cigarette, and the people inside watching their flat screen TVs were in their places. For me, that's comforting, and it made the day special enough.
Copyright 2010 by Nancy Kalish, Ph.D.