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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 10, 2010

Learning how to celebrate the holidays

By Monica Quock Chan

Holidays were relatively uneventful when I was single. Most three-day weekends simply meant a welcome day off that allowed me to catch up on things at home. After I married, holidays became even less distinctive, as my husband often had to work.

After having children, though, our perspective changed greatly. Like greeting card companies, much of our keiki's world revolves around the special days of the year. Indeed, the kids identify months by associating them with celebrations: March has St. Patrick's Day; November means Thanksgiving. In their classes, cut-out hearts are decorated for Valentine's Day, eggs are hidden in the spring, and parents dutifully sign up to bring in themed goody bags for each red-lettered day on the calendar. One set of classroom flashcards lists holidays I didn't even realize existed. ("And a Happy Guy Fawkes Night to you, too!")

I am still trying to keep the festivities simple, but with each passing month it becomes harder. Last Thanksgiving, besides counting our blessings, we also made paper turkeys. But that was nothing compared to Christmas. Our usual celebrations at home and church were augmented by a flurry of activities: decorating a gingerbread house, crafting an advent star, baking cookies, singing carols and participating in a Christmas play. Some of these activities I hadn't done since I was a child, and thus life was brought full circle for me as the decades faded and memories of scooping dough and winter organ accompaniments came to mind.

This past Christmas our 'ohana also ventured into new territory. For the first time I bought our 3-year-old daughter a Christmas outfit, and braved December mall parking so that our 1-year-old could gaze delightedly at the brightly lit decorations. My husband and I balked at buying a tree, though, and instead put one our daughter had painted on display. But before too many years pass, we will likely end up lugging home a real evergreen, for where else will we hang our keiki's future handmade ornaments? Meanwhile, our young'uns cannot wait for Christmas to roll around again. As our eldest lamented, "Dec. 25 is too far away!"

Although the extra emphasis on holidays adds complexity to our lives, it is also a bonding experience. We have fun sharing new experiences, recreating family traditions, and forming memorable moments in the process.

In addition, by attempting to explain to our keiki the essence of each holiday, my husband and I are reminded of the reason why we are celebrating in the first place. For example, Christmas is not just decorations and gifts it is Jesus' birthday. July Fourth is not only picnics and fireworks it commemorates hard-won freedom.

Indeed, the word holiday originates from holy day, a day set apart. The next time one appears on the calendar, we will pause to reflect on the reason behind the festivities, and be thankful. And with that attitude of gratitude, we'll then go out and celebrate!