Since long before I had children, I’ve existed in a world, or at least a headspace that is relatively counterculture. I have been a lazy activist, I’m sorry to say, but have engaged in activism by non participation – in other words, I have rejected many cultural practices, to include many holidays. I’ve had a hard time with some of the most American of holidays because of the history surrounding them. Do we give Thanksgiving for the horrific treatment of Native Americans by our ancestors? And do we celebrate the 4th of July and the historical signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document which declared that all men were created equal – and really did mean men, with a caveat that excluded men who weren’t anglo. There really is a lot of hypocrisy in it all.
As I seek to raise children who I hope will love and appreciate the diversity of cultures and of people who surround them, I find myself teaching Annabelle about, and discussing a number of holidays from others parts of the world as they come up on the calendar, too. I realized recently that I was probably painting the celebrations and traditions of other cultures in a considerably more positive light than I paint our own.
Now, I do believe that there is much to be critical of in our culture, and much in our history that is deeply troubling, but it occurred to me that if I hope to raise my children as world citizens, who love and embrace people of all cultures and from all walks of life, I may want to start by raising them with an appreciation for their own cultural identity. This doesn’t mean taking traditions at face value and accepting the status quo, nor does it mean ignoring the ugly side of our nation’s history. I think it’s important to face the hypocrisy head on, at an age appropriate level, of course. In the interest of building a cultural identity, though, I’ve been trying to build more traditions around some of the American holidays I used to be dismissive of, honoring them in a more positive way.
I do believe that we can celebrate the good without ignoring the bad, and as the children get older I hope to talk more about both sides of the reality behind holidays like Thanksgiving and Independence Day. I think we can still do so and find things to celebrate, too, if we take the Fred Rogers approach of looking for the helpers. There is much in American history that I’m not at all proud of, and much that we can learn from, but there are also figures we can celebrate – people who have fought for peace and justice, have stood up to oppression, have acted as allies, and have represented all of the things I do love about America.
And so, on this Independence Day, we took our celebration seriously, because we are American after all. Here’s some photographic evidence. Mostly, we just ate ridiculous amounts of watermelon and parked ourselves beside the Potomac River to see some fireworks. This is the first year we’ve decided to throw caution and bedtimes to the wind and go see a fireworks display, and it was so worth it. The whole time, Annabelle was running back and forth, squealing, “I love fireworks! Fireworks are so fun! I’m happy!”
How was your July 4, if you celebrated? Are there any cultural holidays you have a hard time getting excited about? How do you handle it?