As a child in the 1960s, I loved learning about holidays celebrated by cultures other than my own. Colorful children's books were my chief source of information. Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind-Family trilogy showed lively children playing the dreidel game during Chanukah, dressing up for Purim, and bravely trying to fast for as long as the grownups on Yom Kippur--to cite just a few examples of what I realized was going on in houses like that of my Jewish friend, Beth Cohen, when I wasn't over there visiting her. Books like these gave me a growing sense of wonder: My own family's practices were not universal! What else went on in the world, and in my own neighborhood, that I would never know about unless I kept branching out, making new friends, and reading different books?
The dark days of winter seemed especially rich with light-filled holiday celebrations. Astrid Lindgren's books about life in Sweden taught me about December 13th, St. Lucia's Feast Day, when little girls wearing crowns of candles served their families breakfast treats. A gilt-edged book about Three Kings Day, mailed to my sisters and me all the way from Puerto Rico (where our former neighbors had relocated), showed how the feast of the Epiphany in early January could be even more meaningful to some Christians than December 25th. Just keeping my eyes and ears open in church made me realize that most of December is supposed to be dedicated to Advent, a time (like Lent) of prayer and thoughtful anticipation of the 12 Days of feasting and merrymaking that come later, like a well-deserved reward.
This year I give thanks to T.A.N.K. for designing a decal to remind us about the different ways people celebrate, give presents, and share food and other holiday traditions of winter. I'll be looking for it in the windows of local shops when I do my gift-buying.