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We Are What We Celebrate

We Are What We Celebrate: Understanding Holidays and Rituals

Amitai Etzioni
Jared Bloom
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 253
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  • Book Info
    We Are What We Celebrate
    Book Description:

    How did Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday become a national holiday? Why do we exchange presents on Christmas and Chanukah? What do bunnies have to do with Easter? How did Earth Day become a global holiday? These questions and more are answered in this fascinating exploration into the history and meaning of holidays and rituals. Edited by Amitai Etzioni, one of the most influential social and political thinkers of our time, this collection provides a compelling overview of the impact that holidays and rituals have on our family and communal life.From community solidarity to ethnic relations to religious traditions, We Are What We Celebrate argues that holidays such as Halloween, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, and Valentine's Day play an important role in reinforcing, and sometimes redefining, our values as a society. The collection brings together classic and original essays that, for the first time, offer a comprehensive overview and analysis of the important role such celebrations play in maintaining a moral order as well as in cementing family bonds, building community relations and creating national identity. The essays cover such topics as the creation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday; the importance of holidays for children; the mainstreaming of Kwanzaa; and the controversy over Columbus Day celebrations.Compelling and often surprising, this look at holidays and rituals brings new meaning to not just the ways we celebrate but to what those celebrations tell us about ourselves and our communities. Contributors: Theodore Caplow, Gary Cross, Matthew Dennis, Amitai Etzioni, John R. Gillis, Ellen M. Litwicki, Diana Muir, Francesca Polletta, Elizabeth H. Pleck, David E. Proctor, Mary F. Whiteside, and Anna Day Wilde.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2291-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PART I Introduction

    • Chapter 1 Holidays and Rituals: Neglected Seedbeds of Virtue
      (pp. 3-40)
      Amitai Etzioni

      On May 27, 1999, the board of the National Association of Securities Dealers (the parent organization of NASDAQ) announced that it planned to open an evening trading session for stocks between 5:30 p.m. and 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. NASDAQ president Richard Ketchum added, “there may come a day when we trade 24 hours.”¹ Actually, a “24/7 week” was already at hand. People can trade stocks and much else twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (including holidays), on the Internet. In a society that has made economic advancement a key value while downgrading others, people dedicate more and more...

  4. PART II Family Building

    • Chapter 2 Who Are We and Where Do We Come From? Rituals, Families, and Identities
      (pp. 43-60)
      Elizabeth H. Pleck

      When the public laments the loss of tradition, they do not have in mind gander pulling on Shrove Tuesday or Easter Monday, or blackface on Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. Nor are they thinking of children begging at Thanksgiving, sexual orgies on Pinkster, or shooting matches on Christmas Day.¹ These examples of the carnivalesque style of celebration are gone, although vestiges of the style can be found at Halloween, Mardi Gras, April Fools’ Day, New Year’s Eve, and during the Christmas season. Americans still enjoy some of the pleasures of masking, costuming, and excess, and children...

    • Chapter 3 Just for Kids: How Holidays Became Child Centered
      (pp. 61-73)
      Gary Cross

      The anticipation of Christmas morning; the excitement of dashing down that dark and cool street trick-or-treating; being the birthday girl seated at a table surrounded by family, mounds of presents, and a candle-lit cake; or sharing an afternoon with a seldom-seen father at Disney’s Magic Kingdom—these are all fond memories shared by many modern American children. They are also rituals invented by adults to evoke in their offspring the wonder of childhood innocence, very often expressed through gift giving. Without too much exaggeration, we could say that holidays and pilgrimages, manifestations of deep communal needs, were metamorphosed into celebrations...

    • Chapter 4 This Is Our Family: Stepfamilies, Rituals, and Kinship Connections
      (pp. 74-88)
      Mary F. Whiteside

      Holidays are generally seen as times of celebration and reaffirmations of family belonging. Old, familiar rituals can make the world feel orderly and natural, reminding us of who we are and where we come from. For step-families, however, holiday celebrations do not come so easily. Particularly in the years immediately following a remarriage, the need to develop a vision of a “normal,” societally acceptable family identity may clash with the unique structural characteristics of stepfamilies. There are strongly held traditions from first marriages which resist and compete with attempts to establish new, more inclusive celebrations. The tasks facing the family...

    • Chapter 5 Gathering Together: Remembering Memory through Ritual
      (pp. 89-104)
      John R. Gillis

      There is a tendency for those who remember memory to see it as perpetually fading, uniquely subject to the erosions of time. Frances Yates, the great historian of ancient and early modern memory, was convinced that “we moderns have no memories at all.”¹ In our own time, fears of forgetting have reached unprecedented levels. In America, if there is one thing left and right agree on, it is national amnesia. “A refusal to remember … is a primary characteristic of our nation,” writes the conservative critic Lynn Cheney. Responding for the liberals, Michael Wallace declares, “Ours is a historicidal culture.”²...

  5. PART III Community Building

    • Chapter 6 The Festival Cycle: Halloween to Easter in the Community of Middletown
      (pp. 107-119)
      Theodore Caplow

      In 1924 Robert and Helen Lynd immersed themselves in a small industrial town in Indiana, which they called Middletown, in order to study the culture and values of its residents. After publishing their findings in 1929, the Lynds returned to Middletown six years later to perform the first replicated community study of its kind. In 1978, Theodore Caplow and a team of sociologists returned to Middletown, now identified as Muncie, Indiana, for a second restudy of the Middletown community. The following is taken from their essay about the community’s festival cycle

      We assume for purposes of the following analysis that...

    • Chapter 7 Mainstreaming Kwanzaa
      (pp. 120-130)
      Anna Day Wilde

      Ralph Kennedy, a manager at IBM who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has celebrated the African-American holiday Kwanzaa since 1974. When he started, he says, “there was a great deal of active discussion going on about the tendency or lack of tendency of people of color to come together as extended family.” It was out of a desire to bring their relatives and friends together that he and his wife initiated their Kwanzaa celebration.

      In his home, the observance is a graceful and intimate one, having grown through the years to include about forty family members and friends. “How we use...

    • Chapter 8 Victorian Days: Performing Community through Local Festival
      (pp. 131-148)
      David E. Procter

      My wife and I walk up the limestone stairs and into Waterville’s historic Weaver Hotel. We are here for an English “high tea.” Inside the hotel, first built in 1905, I feel like I’ve stepped back in time. I am surrounded by women in Victorian dress and the delicate sounds of stringed instruments. We are directed across worn oak floors to a table covered with a white lace cloth and set with blue willow china. From our table, we notice the polished hard pine trim and numerous paintings depicting frontier life. We gaze through a large six-foot window onto Waterville’s...

  6. PART IV Nation Building

    • Chapter 9 Can You Celebrate Dissent? Holidays and Social Protest
      (pp. 151-177)
      Francesca Polletta

      Consider three episodes of protest. At a Mardi Gras festival in France in the early nineteenth century, the revelry includes celebrants dressing up as and mimicking the town’s mayor and his deputies. At one point, protesters break into the town’s granary and begin to distribute grain to the cheering crowd. After the festival, half-hearted efforts are made to identify the ring-leaders, but no one is ever prosecuted.¹ Flash forward over a century to East Berlin in the fall of 1989 and to a parade organized by the ruling communist party to celebrate forty years of victorious socialism, complete with a...

    • Chapter 10 The Invention of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday
      (pp. 178-193)
      Matthew Dennis

      Until quite recently, African Americans—unlike Irish, Italian, or Norwegian Americans, who trumped Columbus as “discoverer” of America with their own Leif Erikson—had no broadly recognized patron saint of their own (Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, but he was not black) and no publicly sanctioned holiday.¹ Blacks—like other Americans—had advanced their claims on the Fourth of July and celebrated other particularly African American holidays, such as Juneteenth and Emancipation Day, but they lacked a Columbus or St. Patrick’s Day, occasions when they could perform their “doubleness”—as both African Americansandas Americans—publicly, without contradiction,...

    • Chapter 11 Proclaiming Thanksgiving throughout the Land: From Local to National Holiday
      (pp. 194-212)
      Diana Muir

      At the close of the eighteenth century, Thanksgiving was a holiday exclusive to New England. It was celebrated with great enthusiasm, but only in the New England states and in adjacent parts of Long Island and upstate New York that, having been settled by New Englanders, were culturally part of the region. It was also celebrated in Connecticut’s Western Reserve, which we now know as northeastern Ohio. People elsewhere did not celebrate Thanksgiving, although they might have heard of it in much the same way that Americans today know of Mardi Gras as a holiday that is celebrated in New...

    • Chapter 12 “Our Hearts Burn with Ardent Love for Two Countries”: Ethnicity and Assimilation
      (pp. 213-246)
      Ellen M. Litwicki

      In 1876 Chicagoans marked the centennial of American independence with two massive displays of patriotism.¹ In the first, military and fraternal societies, led by the Second Regiment of the newly organized Illinois National Guard, paraded through downtown streets lined with cheering spectators waving American flags. Afterward, the regiment sponsored holiday exercises, which featured a ritual reading of the Declaration of Independence, oratory, patriotic recitations and music, and military drills. Across town on the Fourth, a second, three-day centennial celebration culminated in another procession and rhetorical exercises, followed by a balloon ascension, a “grand illumination of the grove,” dancing, and a...

  7. About the Contributors
    (pp. 247-248)
  8. Index
    (pp. 249-253)