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Holidays/ Festivals

This year marks the third year Josh has been in New Zealand over Thanksgiving, and this year, like the past two years, we celebrated it “downunder” style. This year’s Thanksgiving also happened to coincide with my Mum’s birthday, and even though she is in another country right now, Josh and I, and my brother and middle sister liked to think we were celebrating that too.

Because it was just the four of us, we had quite a lot of flexibility with our menu choices. My brother (let’s call him D) brought the pre-dinner snacks, my sister (A) brought apple cider and juice, and I was in charge of roasting a leg of lamb (for the very first time), cooking up some new potatoes and asparagus to go with it, and dessert (a mixed berry pie, also a first for me!).

Ah, how I long for a bigger kitchen. Could be worse I guess.

D is always in charge of making the gravy.

It probably wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without some sort of kitchen disaster. I was preheating the oven while I prepared the lamb, when Josh walked in and asked why the kitchen was filled with smoke. We quickly turned the oven off and let it cool down while we investigated what the issue was. It turns out we aren’t very proactive in cleaning our oven and there was some burnt food at the bottom clogging things up. Oops. It was easily fixed though, and everything got cooked properly, even if it was 45 minutes later than I originally planned.

A mixing the pie filling for me.

Josh victorious after fixing the oven.

While we waited for the lamb to roast, we took a couple group shots out in front of our old shed to send to my mum for her birthday.
We were also able to skype her and Dad for a bit which was nice.

You can’t see it, but we’re all gathered around the laptop here to skype.

And then it was time to eat!

If you’re wondering, all I did with the lamb was rub it with mustard, cut slits in it and stuff those slits all over with garlic and fresh rosemary. I roasted it for 15 mins at 220 C, and then an hour at 170 C. Seemed to work pretty well. Next time I need to figure out how to make the outside crispier because I think I was too impatient this time round.

There’s no photo of the pie because it was ugly (I am bad with pastry) and we ate it too fast. It was delicious (presentation doesn’t matter, right?).

So, that was our Thanksgiving. Have you ever taken a holiday or tradition from another country and incorporated it into your life?

At the risk of sounding like a boring old fart, I don’t like or understand Halloween. To be more specific, I don’t get the idea of a) scaring ourselves silly, or b) dressing up and/or decorating using various motifs related to death. I don’t have any issues with dressing up as a fairy, animal, etc. but I just can’t get my head around dressing up as, say, a skeleton or making a “meat head” out of luncheon meats and cheese.

It all just seems so…fake and paradoxical. Paradoxical, because often in Western society it seems that we sanitise death when we encounter it in real life. Real death is talked about in euphemisms, the body is cleaned up and placed in a casket, many people wear black, and loud, public grief seems to be discouraged. I once wrote a short story that included a body rotting in the jungle after a plane crash. Because that’s what bodies do in hot jungles. I know. I’ve seen it. But some people in the class I submitted the story for reacted with horror. “You can’t talk about it that way,” they said. “You can’t use that much detail.” I was surprised. From my perspective, I was simply telling things the way they happen.

And yet, at Halloween, we use death as an occasion to dress up in polyester and face paint and frighten ourselves. Maybe it is necessary for us to do this as a kind of catharsis that we don’t get when actually facing death. I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that what I have seen of death in some other cultures is very different. It is not sanitised. In the village I grew up in the body is laid out in the house and the family members can sit all around, hugging it, stroking it, singing it into the afterlife. It isn’t dressed up, there is no makeup to make the face look more alive. There is much wailing as more mourners arrive at the house and are greeted by relatives. Outward grief is encouraged. To me, this is what death is. Not clean, not separate from the living, but a part of everyday life, and a part that isn’t to be hidden or to be dolled up in masks and other paraphernalia so that we can fool ourselves into believing it is something else.

So, that’s my two cents and why I don’t celebrate Halloween. To be honest, not many people in New Zealand do anyway, though it is starting to become more popular. But it just isn’t for me.