We Are What We Celebrate: Understanding Holidays and Rituals

We Are What We Celebrate: Understanding Holidays and Rituals

We Are What We Celebrate: Understanding Holidays and Rituals

We Are What We Celebrate: Understanding Holidays and Rituals


How did Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday become a national holiday? Why do we exchange presents on Christmas and Chanukah? What do bunnies have to do with Easter? How did Earth Day become a global holiday? These questions and more are answered in this fascinating exploration into the history and meaning of holidays and rituals. Edited by Amitai Etzioni, one of the most influential social and political thinkers of our time, this collection provides a compelling overview of the impact that holidays and rituals have on our family and communal life.

From community solidarity to ethnic relations to religious traditions, We Are What We Celebrate argues that holidays such as Halloween, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, and Valentine's Day play an important role in reinforcing, and sometimes redefining, our values as a society. The collection brings together classic and original essays that, for the first time, offer a comprehensive overview and analysis of the important role such celebrations play in maintaining a moral order as well as in cementing family bonds, building community relations and creating national identity. The essays cover such topics as the creation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday; the importance of holidays for children; the mainstreaming of Kwanzaa; and the controversy over Columbus Day celebrations.

Compelling and often surprising, this look at holidays and rituals brings new meaning to not just the ways we celebrate but to what those celebrations tell us about ourselves and our communities.

Contributors: Theodore Caplow, Gary Cross, Matthew Dennis, Amitai Etzioni, John R. Gillis, Ellen M. Litwicki, Diana Muir, Francesca Polletta, Elizabeth H. Pleck, David E. Proctor, Mary F. Whiteside, and Anna Day Wilde.


Amitai Etzioni

On May 27, 1999, the board of the National Association of Securities Dealers (the parent organization of NASDAQ) announced that it planned to open an evening trading session for stocks between 5:30 p.m. and 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. nasdaq president Richard Ketchum added, “there may come a day when we trade 24 hours.” Actually, a “24/7 week” was already at hand. People can trade stocks and much else twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (including holidays), on the Internet. in a society that has made economic advancement a key value while downgrading others, people dedicate more and more of their time to work and commerce, and less to family, community, and holidays. Although the per capita hours in the formal workweek have not increased much, many people work overtime and take work home, and, above all, more members of the family now work outside the household.

The rise of cyberspace presents a qualitative jump in the scope of opportunities to work and trade because it knows neither clock nor calendar nor holidays. For those who seek to trade or labor within the Internet's rapidly expanding confines, any time is as good as any other. While in the “old” pre-Internet world, banks still closed at certain hours on certain days, rapidly rising e-banks are operational at all times. and while some shops stay open late-nights and weekends, only on the Internet can one safely assume that time, day, and date do not matter. There is no day of rest for the Internet mailman; email flows into one's pc nonstop. in short, cyberspace has no Sabbath—nor Christmas nor Yom Kippur. Cyberspace stands to eradicate whatever remains of “institutionalized” barriers, that is . . .

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