Sunday, December 24, 2006
Christmas in the USA
Merry Christmas from Southern California. I just couldn't resist our famous "Surfing Santa, " but no, this is not the typical Christmas activity, even in the land of the sun. The Christmas Eve Linköpinglivin edition proved to be a bit too ambitious, so if you noticed the delay, thanks to you for being an admirably attentive blog reader.
Usually, the intended audience for Linköpinglivin is people who know me, but are unfamiliar with Sweden and Swedish life and culture. The Swedes who eavesdrop on this ongoing conversation, and often add to it, are a welcomed and enjoyable part of this weekly tour of Sverige for the novice.
This week however, the audience is one of a Swedish background and all the non-Swedes, mostly American, get to listen in and offer some insight into how Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. The funny thing is that it is a whole lot easier for me to stand on the outside and observe someone else's culture than to stand on the inside and try to gain perspective on what I've always known and loved. We'll see what happens as I try to take on the daunting task of describing this most beloved holiday in America.
The stereotype of an American Christmas is overdone lights and an altogether over-commercialized holiday. While I cannot pretend this is not the case, there's certainly more to Christmas than lights on our roofs and too many presents under the tree. In a society that works too much and often sacrifices relationships for the almighty dollar, Christmas provides an opportunity to re-connect and re-establish ties that bind.
Family and friends are the highlight of the season, in addition to a time of the year when spiritual reflection is widely supported through advent church services as well as acknowledgment of Hanukkah and other religious traditions. Some choose to celebrate culturally, some choose spiritual celebrations and most bring the two together for a complex mingling of great gift expenditures and deeper personal meaning. Not unlike the cultural and religious celebration of other Western societies, the U.S. celebration is an individual and collective experience that cannot be adequately described or summarized, but reveals the great diversity of a country made up of immigrants who share a big land.
Specific elements of the Christmas celebration are simply variations on a familiar theme of Santa, stockings, trees, angels, music, Christmas food and drink, red and green, the wishing for and sometimes receiving of snow, etc. Many people begin their celebration around the tree sometime Christmas Eve and continue on through Christmas Day, from where I write you at this moment. The upcoming week will be gloriously unproductive as many vacations last right through the New Year. A personal favorite, the upcoming week culminates the American college football season with multiple games referred to as "bowl games" to determine the best teams of the year and preview next season's potential favorites.
Finally, the picture above is of my cousin Alexis, five years old and full of Christmas spirit, as well as one of the few reasons I found to not move to Sweden....
Check out Linköpinglivin next week for the continued State-side editions and a special "USA: Fact or Fiction" effort aimed at debunking and confirming popular stereotypes of America held throughout Sweden, at least what I've heard from people courageous enough to share their views. Until then, enjoy the week and take some time to rest. You deserve and need it.