My children and I tested positive for COVID-19 about a week before Thanksgiving, which meant we had to miss a larger family gathering that my in-laws were hosting.
We made the best of it on Thanksgiving Day. My wife baked a turkey and a few sides, and we exchanged goodies with some friends who were similarly on quarantine.
The most interesting thing about it to me was what we did after Thanksgiving. My wife and I are members of the Bahá’í Faith, and there are a couple of Bahá’í holidays that fall around Thanksgiving every year. However, a lot of our family lives in the Twin Cities and Thanksgiving is such a dominant American family tradition that the Bahá’í holidays get lost in the shuffle.
When my immediate family suddenly had the week to ourselves, my wife and I raised the question, “What exactly are we honoring on Thanksgiving?” We realize the holiday has a controversial history, but everyone we know embraces the chance to hang out with extended family. When my wife and I couldn’t actually see our family this year it made us wonder, what are we celebrating at home? Old pie recipes?
It led to a rather exciting conversation around the Bahá’í holidays that we usually miss in November, the history and significance behind them, and what we want them to mean for our kids. We basically decided that, while we’ll still embrace Thanksgiving as a chance to hang out with others, we wanted to make the Bahá’í holidays “bigger” within our household.
We have both been Bahá’í long enough to realize that is actually a difficult goal to reach. Living in the United States, you get swamped with American holidays - especially Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Regardless of ones belief, these holidays are inescapable from October until January. But the bigger obstacle is that we get swamped with life. Everyone we know gets so preoccupied with daily life that we can barely fit Christmas shopping in. And that is even with every major retailer reminding you of it a dozen times per day. It is even more difficult to celebrate something with no prepackaged traditions; when the vast majority of people don’t even realize you are trying to celebrate something.
This year helped me to realize how commemorating something despite the rest of the world not knowing can make the celebration more poignant. With mainstream holidays, it is easy to engage in them thoughtlessly. You put up the decorations you already have in your attic, you buy what was advertised while you’re already at the store, you click through on the sales that are emailed to you. America works hard to make certain holidays convenient when it can be a little more rewarding when you have to work for it.
For my wife and I, the freedom of quietly choosing our own tradition led to a really fun conversation reflecting on what will draw our family together. There were no expectations to meet or rituals to uphold. These holidays made us feel completely free to develop whatever felt most meaningful to us.
After this experience, I encourage you to add some more holidays to your calendar. Either pick some under appreciated events or make up your own. Enjoy the blank canvas of celebratory opportunity. You can make your own traditions, focus on exactly what you find significant, and include the people that you really want to share it with. Maybe there’s a member of your family who has passed away who deserves some more birthday parties? Maybe you want take a day to appreciate the impact of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Charles Darwin, or James Baldwin? Countless monumental events only live on in books and Wikipedia; you could dig for something surprising and commemorate it in your way. Or, maybe keep it personal: Perhaps you remember the first time you fell in love with paddle boarding, birdwatching, or painting, and you want to relive that feeling once a year. Or maybe the day you bought your first car, quit smoking, or started your own business was such a big accomplishment that you need to take credit for it again every year.
Whatever brings significance into your life, maybe it would be worth creating a tradition around? It can bring more motivation and direction into your life if you can identify these timestamps in your year. Then relish the fact that, despite the world’s apparent unawareness of it, it means a lot to you.
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