Holidays and Anthropology

Now that Halloween is passed and Thanksgiving will be here shortly we are in the midst of the holiday season. I always think of the holidays as one of the best times for teaching people about anthropology. As an individual who has always had a very diverse groups of acquaintances and friends I see a wide range of beliefs at the holidays flowing across my Facebook feeds. One of the common themes that I notice is the desire to ‘claim’ a holiday for one certain religion or belief system. Very rarely do I see anyone acknowledging the true potpourri of beliefs that encompass the religions we celebrate as Americans. America is the “melting pot” of cultures. Throughout history, many religions ‘adopted’ and molded of cultures they were converting into practices they were teaching the new congregations. Let’s take Halloween for example since it just passed. In this article, Catholic’s Guide to Halloween we see the Christian traditional holidays and the urge to take the holiday back since it is theirs. In another article Samhain the pagan and Celtic traditions are highlighted. In yet another article we see the Norse traditions related to the calendrical period Winter Nights. All of these traditions are historical, unique and absolutely true.

No one religion or culture can be said to ‘own’ any mainstream holidays. They are a beautiful time of year celebrating family, harvest, and thankfulness for a good year and cultures worldwide recognize these values. Thanksgiving celebrates the fall harvest which most cultures also celebrate as evidenced above and here History of Thanksgiving. Christmas is celebration with worldwide linkages Christmas around the World and we are all aware of the symbolic Christian meanings associated with the birth of Christ. As you can see from many of the articles linked here, holidays are an incredible time to teach people about cultural differences and similarities. Sometimes it is these similarities that are the most meaningful for people and that can reach the broadest audience. So, enjoy the multi-cultural spirit of this season and keep anthropology in mind as you think about the various cultural origins of whatever celebrations you partake in over the next three months.

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