In the US, at least in the midwest portion, the standard is to inquire about what one did for the latest religious holiday just past.
My standard is to reply “I don’t observe”.
It’s a very quick end to the conversation and if I were skilled at conversing I would be able to redirect so that it didn’t feel so awkwardly halted.
It seems that many people in my area are completely unaware of the religious traditions outside of christianity. Those dates may or may not appear on a printed calendar or in a specialty shop, but for the most part those other dates important to their keepers are brushed aside or unknown by many people. There is likely the unstated opinion that those dates are less important, or not relevant since a majority prefers the well-known dates. It’s stifling sometimes.
I did a quick search on the standards, to find at what point dates became stated as US owned or observed days. It seems that most of what is determined to be Federal Holidays were established in the late 1800s and edited in the early 1900s. The dates were primarily set to determine time off and pay standards for federal workers, not meant as a US standard for all citizens.
I also took a peek at an ancestor’s writings, and find that the early days of the US held much more closely to the biblical calendar than I ever realized. Check out the Diary of Thomas Miner (or Minor). He wrote during the last third of his life. He immigrated from England, and settled in the Mystic/Stonington area of Connecticut. It’s not an easy read, old English simply isn’t. Of great interest to me: his year began in spring, around March/April, with the new growth signalling a new year. As is biblically written; as matches an agrarian cycle! In the US, mind you. Originally. In the 1600s.
We accustom ourselves to our surroundings and take on the notion that this is how it is supposed to be – what we learned was the rule, what we were taught from our cultural inheritance. To what harm, I ask?
Who determined that January 1 should be a new year, and what was the reasoning? Was this a change to something that was long-standing? What benefit – or who benefits from this change?
That seriousness aside, the true reason I’m writing is to express the joy of spring as this first month of my year rolls past.
Yesterday, on Shabbat, I traveled to a wildlife refuge.
The trip was sublime, as an eclectic mix of music accompanied my drive.
Scenes of green and brown, blue and white;
the rolling and winding roadways along the way;
a crispness to the air which felt perfectly warm in pockets of wind break.
I arrived at the refuge and began scanning the rolling hills to each side; crossing the cattle guard into the open range as I expectantly looked – maybe after the next rise?
And then as I crested the hill, noting the traffic ahead – they were there! A herd of buffalo to my right, still distant – and a few tucked into a descending tree spotted ravine, closer to me.
I slowed and looked to my left and realized that the stars of the view were present there!
The elk herd!
The male standing prone on the top of the hill, head turned toward me; his females and youngsters mostly laying on the hill around him. I pulled to the side and stopped.
I was the main concern for the male and he kept his head turned straight at me for a while… then a sound from the traffic up ahead.
He began the slow pan of the horizon, looking back to me… and then, satisfied, he lowered his head some. Still watchful, but accepting.
Camera! Where’s my phone? Ugh!
Yes, a trip without the phone – not something I would normally do. So the pictures were only what I watched. Both sides. Capturing memories.
Bladder pressing, I moved on to meet my needs and then turned back to return home.
Buffalo not in the same place, I kept heading forward and then I realized what happened.
The buffalo herd had followed the leaders in the ravine and crossed the road. Most were grazing greedily at the ground salad near the road, while a few had moved on up the hill and were halfway to the still lounging herd of elk.
Again, I stopped. The buffalo were so close now, it was a treat – a safely distanced treat – to watch them tear the greens from their anchors. Pawing and head shaking to angle for a better munch, as they side eyed me a time or two.
I looked to the few on the hill and then realized that they were nearly to the elk –
and the large female elk had risen and moved toward the male.
The two came to some agreement between them…
and then the buffalo slowly moved in. Right amongst the elk herd.
Sweet memories that.
To home I returned, settling nicely into the back yard to watch the first dragonfly of the year and the first eastern tiger swallowtail – both testing the winds and the scents.
And then, to my surprise, the first honeybee was seen sampling my fine garden of dandelions!
A Shabbat to remember for me.
An end to the month of special Shabbats – Passover, the First and Seventh days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The first day of the new year, the abib stage of the barley.
Extremely important culture to me.