A (Very) Brief History Lesson: Christmas

Christmas has become more than a holiday—it’s a state of mind, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, it’s a celebration that lasts for some people from the end of November until the end of December. It’s celebrated in some incarnation all across the world. Some local news stations in America even have a “Santa tracker” on Christmas Eve. This holiday has a long history, and the modern concept of Christmas has evolved out of various traditions.

The Winter Solstice— often referred to as Yule in various pagan traditions— has long been celebrated. This day marks the longest night of the year, and was celebrated as the beginning of the end of the darkest parts of winter. In Rome, the festival of Saturnalia also occurred around this time, and consisted of much feasting and partying.

It was around the fourth century when the Christian church decided to take advantage of the festivities of this time of the year, and dedicated December 25th as the birth day of Jesus. (It’s unlikely just a coincidence that the birth of a Roman deity named Mithras was also said to take place on December 25th, for which there was a festival held in parts of the Roman Empire.)

As with Easter, Christmas became a Christianized holiday, built on the bones of pagan traditions. By the Middle Ages, the holiday was a part of societies across Europe. This tradition was temporarily dampened in the 17th century by Oliver Cromwell, who, being a Puritan, attempted to abolish Christmas. Of course this didn’t last long, and the holiday was brought back to its newfound Christian glory. It also faced some obstacles when arriving in America, but found its footing by the 1800s, which was partially led along by the written works of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens (think The Christmas Carol).

Christmas is now celebrated in many different ways. In Europe, Christmas markets full of goodies and crafts are popular during the holiday season. In America, the commercial frenzy begins the day after Thanksgiving and stretches until the end of December. Most countries have their own interpretations of the holiday as well. Some of my favorite renditions of the Christmas holiday come from Catalonia— which involves the personification of a log whom you feed throughout the month and the climax of which includes hitting the log with sticks, singing a sort of carol, and then receiving gifts in return (there’s more to this but it would take some time to explain)— and Iceland— where, to my understanding, Christmas Eve is dedicated to books and chocolate.

No matter how it’s celebrated, Christmas is a great excuse to spend time with family, eat delicious foods, and veg out on the couch in your pajamas all day. Wishing you all a wonderful— if belated— holiday season!

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Thanksgiving: Understanding the Real History and Decolonizing the “American” Holiday

Thanksgiving is a beloved American holiday. People eat gluttonous amounts of food, gather with family, and celebrate the Pilgrims feasting before their first harsh winter on their newfound American soil. This is the idea perpetuated for generations by “Americans”, most of whom are the descendants of individuals who immigrated to the continent and decided to claim everything they set their eyes upon. The reality of this history is not a part of the master narrative of the American understanding of Thanksgiving. The entire history of the Native American peoples has not been included— or in some cases, completely fabricated— in many education systems across the country, and the current displacement and abuse of these peoples continues to be overlooked or ignored.

I have never been very comfortable with the holiday of Thanksgiving due to its history— one based in cruelty, erasure, and genocide. This year, I am visiting family for the holiday, and I felt that it would be important to take a moment and make an effort to acknowledge the peoples past and present who suffer from displacement, erasure, abuse, and other forms of cruelty through everything from stereotypes, to racist mascots (looking at you Redskins), and the absurdity of living as second class citizens on their own lands.

Here are some of my ideas for playing just a small part in decolonizing the holiday of Thanksgiving:

Acknowledge that if you live on “American” soil and are not of direct Native descent, that you are the descendant of an immigrant and a colonizer, and there was a high price to be paid for you to live here. If you are going to be thankful, let it be with the knowledge that the things you have to be thankful for are often mourned by those who actually paid the price.

Learn about the real history of the Pilgrims and their role in the colonization and destruction of the Native American peoples and their cultures.

Familiarize yourself with these populations before colonization. The history of America often begins with the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, and completely ignores the millennia of various cultures that thrived across the continent before their introduction.

Visit a map or site that can give you a better idea of what land you are really living on and its history. A good resource is Native-Land.ca where you can see what tribes traditionally lived and cared for the lands you are currently living on (if you’re in America of course).

Realize and refuse to tolerate all forms of racism— including stereotypes, the usage of minorities as mascots or money-making figures, further gentrification of Native spaces, and any other form of degradation.

Promote visibility for Native peoples and their voices. Some ways to do this are by supporting Native owned brands and media, acknowledging and raising their voices when you hear them, and giving them the space and forum to speak for themselves— thereby being an ally and not steamrolling in the name of “social justice”.

Support Native peoples and their causes. I have decided to start an annual tradition of donating to a foundation that directly supports Native peoples every Thanksgiving.

I may not be able to change the country, or abolish the harmful ideas around this holiday, but I like to believe that every bit of love and support reaches someone in need in some way.

Here are some resources for learning more about the real history of Thanksgiving, some tools for learning to decolonize your understanding of Native American peoples, and some suggestions for places to donate:




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A Brief History Lesson: All Hallows Eve

Today is Halloween, my absolute favorite day of the year.

I have always been fascinated by the macabre, interested in darkness, and intrigued by death.
I have found solace in hiding behind a mask, in personifying whomever I want to be for an evening, and by the sudden and temporary break in social decorum that comes along with trick or treating.

America is the epicenter of Halloween in the modern age. It has taken elements of harvest celebrations and traditions of honoring the dead from cultures all over the world and combined them into what now has become a mostly commercial holiday.

Despite this, I adore the holiday for its roots. We dress up, go trick or treating, carve pumpkins, and immerse ourselves in elements of the dead and the world beyond the veil today, putting us distantly in touch with generations of people before us.

Here are some of the roots of the modern American Halloween:


This is a nearly two thousand year old Celtic (pagan) festival that celebrated the end of the harvest season and welcomed in the beginning of winter, which marked the Celtic new year. This was believed to be the time when the veil between the world of the living and the “otherworld” was at its thinnest. It was often celebrated with bonfires and other festivities, including carving faces into turnips (the original jack o lantern) to ward off unwanted spirits.


Of course with the insurgence of Catholicism into the Celtic regions, the pagan holidays began to be changed and molded to fit the church. From this came All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd), which combined with what we know as Halloween (October 31st), is sometimes referred to as Hallowmas. The tradition of All Souls Day came to include leaving “soul cakes” out in front of homes, to feed and appease the spirits that may come to the door. Sometimes children would dress up (partly to slip among the spirits themselves unbothered) and “go a-souling”, or what we know today as trick or treating.


This is a celebration of the dead that is primarily associated with Mexico and some South American countries. From October 31st to November 2nd families pay respects to their deceased loved ones by building beautiful shrines in their memory, setting out offerings of food, and visiting the graves of their loved ones. This celebration has even deeper roots in an Aztec festival honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl— the Queen of the Underworld— but was also (like Samhain) later blended with Christian elements of All Saints Day.



Due to a massive immigration of people from Ireland into America, which was primarily caused by the Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, and the rise of Mysticism in America not long after, the tradition of Samhain and its Christian companions remained somewhat intact. In the early 20th century, Halloween began to rise into the consciousness of America. By the 1950s, the focus of Halloween shifted to children, making it a family holiday, and opening the door for the modern traditions of Halloween, which ironically have begun to make their way back across the Atlantic to Europe just in recent years.

One of the things I love so much about travel is that history is irrevocably tied to it. While visiting museums, castles, and medieval villages, there is an awareness of the history of the world and how it has created the world we live in today.

This year I am celebrating Halloween in France, next year, who knows where I will be.



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