Thursday, December 3, 2009

Becoming a Scrooge

I’m typically very cynical about the American continental monoculture. Our sea-to-shining-sea conformity is really quite unique. Especially during holidays, times that should showcase a diversity of customs, most Americans seem to obey the same guidelines for celebration. We are so influenced by commercial behavior that the holidays have been branded with defined colors and images: green and red Santas at Christmas; black and orange witches at Halloween; pastel bunnies at Easter. To an extent, holidays have become little more than guideposts for directing the patterns of consumer spending.

While most holidays had roots in faith and the old world, Americans have dropped most of the pretext. The point of my rant, however, is not to suggest that all the commercial trappings of the holidays be stripped in favor of the solemn religious affairs. Even sacred observances tend toward a uniform pageantry in the US. My wish is to see more diversity in the observance of holidays based on heritage, locality and experience.

One of the great pleasures of traveling through Europe is getting to experience the variety of cultures. Although it can be said that Americans and Europeans share the same base of Western Civilization, it’s apparent that our way of life differs. Exploring these peculiarities is often most fun during the holidays. Most countries of Europe are still majority Christian and observe the same major holidays, but the unique ways in which each is celebrated is fascinating. In Italy you might find Christmas witches, while in Denmark it’s hard to avoid the Christmas trolls.

On the compact European landmass the variations in the landmass are matched by the diversity of its people. Over the centuries, differing customs were developed and guarded. The coalescing of nationalities has even served to preserve regional identity in the face of nationalization and commercialization. The US landscape, encompassing an entire continent, is likewise diverse. Settlers populated the new country with many and varied cultures. Yet we become increasingly homogenous through commercial pressures.

Americans ought to celebrate the differences that still distinguish local cultural populations. We must be more welcoming to recent immigrants and share in their celebrations. By trying to manufacture a common national identity, we are losing the cultural spectrum that makes the human experience beautiful.

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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.