Rituals, Celebrations and a Horse Race

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Believe it or not, a number of Americans have asked me how we celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia…before I remind them (with a cough) that Australian don’t celebrate Thanksgiving – it’s (another cough) an American ritual…and believe it or not they often seem genuinely shocked.

I am an unapologetic adopter of celebrations – I figure when in Rome…So my family are the ones cheerfully flying the American flag and organizing the Fourth of July street party. We take our boys trick or treating (something that growing up in Australia we never did) and at Thanksgiving we oblige by going through the whole nightmare of traveling, visiting and cooking – all in honor of our adopted home. I like celebrating. I like eating and drinking (I am, after all, an Australian!) and we get to enjoy the best of both worlds.
We fly the Australian flag on Australia Day and enjoy explaining the often strange rituals and celebrations of our homeland – which even to this day celebrates English holidays such as Boxing Day (which is the day after Christmas) despite the fact that no Australian I know has the least idea what this day is all about (apart from post-Christmas sales!).
When researching my Ursula Marlow series I came across a social calendar for 1910 which revealed just how the Edwardians set their calendars by events such as yacht races, polo and cricket matches, art gallery openings, theatre season etc. I was jealous just thinking about the pace of life back then. My favorite holiday is ‘Empire Day’ – it’s such an imperialistic conceit that I almost wish it was still celebrated – only because it would reveal how the British Empire is no more.
Of course Australia is still officially part of the Empire and as we have failed to ever pass a referendum to become a republic, the Queen of England is still our head of state. Yes, we even have a public holiday in honor of the Queen’s Birthday – now isn’t that hilarious! (Hey, I’m not knocking it though – I’m all for public holiday’s no matter what they are in aid of!).

Nothing in my research however is as funny as seeing American reactions to one very famous public holiday in Melbourne – one celebration that reveals the quirks of Australia that Americans would probably find hard to believe. That day is Melbourne Cup Day – the first Tuesday in November. It’s my all time favorite holiday mainly because my birthday quite often coincides (as it did this year) and who would ever complain about having a public holiday on their birthday?! So there you have it – in Australia we give everyone the day off in celebration of a horse race.

As immigrants we get to enjoy bringing the rituals from our home and taking on the rituals and celebrations of our adopted home, America. This Thanksgiving week I like to think it gives me the opportunity to reflect on how fortunate we are to be able to do this – to freely celebrate or not as we wish and to enjoy the welcome we have received here. America has been very good to me – it gave me the opportunity to fulfil my dream of being a published writer. I have been able to achieve things here that frankly I doubt I could have achieved in Australia. For that I am extremely thankful – but believe me when I say, I will never, ever be able to stomach pumpkin pie, no matter how many Thanksgivings I attend…

Some food for thought…what rituals and celebrations have you adopted and what have you brought with you from your other home (if you have one)? And in the spirit of Thanksgiving what are you thankful for?

14 thoughts on “Rituals, Celebrations and a Horse Race

  1. I’m an American, born and raised, but I have somewhat adopted Boxing Day as a holiday for myself. I always take off work December 26, and use it as a day to relax and appreciate having spent time and exchanged gifts with my family. It’s become a favorite of mine, I always save a vacation day for it.

    Kathryn, congratulations on your birthday. You are probably aware–but I’m sure many aren’t–that Earth Day is itself a birthday celebration, for the late actor Eddie Albert (Green Acres, The Longest Day), who was active in ecological matters long before it was fashionaable for celebrities to do so, and never took much credit for it. Earth Day was chosen because it was his birthday.

    My birthday is a holiday once in a while, when it coincides with Martin Luther King Day. (No relation.)

  2. “I will never, ever be able to stomach pumpkin pie, no matter how many Thanksgivings I attend…”

    That’s good news, Clare. That means more for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Dana, MLK and I share the same birthday, so I get a holiday every year to celebrate.

  3. Kathryn and Joe – your birthdays are way cooler than mine – I get to celebrate usually by realizing I chose the losing horse (‘old nag’ or something like that!). Dana, I agree I love Boxing Day – though this usually means I get to eat leftovers (which i hardly need!). In Australia, where it’s summer at Christmas, we used to picnic on the beach – it was great! And Joe, you can have ALL the pumpkin pie!

  4. Clare- I bet my pumpkin/ginger cheesecake would win you over. Will make it for you sometime. I grew up in RI, where we remain the only state to celebrate “VJ” day (Victory of Japan.) Despite the fact that it’s widely agreed this holiday is in particularly poor taste given it’s origins, Rhode Islanders quite enjoy having the day off, so it’s never been taken off the books. Halloween is my personal favorite, however.

  5. Eddie Albert, Dana? How fabu! When I think of that show, I always think os Zsa Zsa tossing turnips from a hot air balloon, crying, “Eat Hooterville rutagabas!” Loved it.

  6. I’ll remain skeptical but willing to try Michelle – as I do with anything with Pumpkin that pretends to be a dessert! And again another cool birthday!

  7. My birthday is Memorial Day. It’s been a strange metamophosis since holidays here migrated to Mondays.

    Lillian and I have decided that it’s time to create our own traditions for Thanksgiving and Christmas, without worrying about whether or not the kids are going to make it home. So we’re trying things out, to see how they suit us.

    This Thanksgiving we’re going to take a ferry ride.

    I’m all for adopting holidays! I’d love to celebrate Melbourne Cup Day, actually.

  8. Fran
    We’ll have a vitual Melbourne Cup holiday next year. All you need to do is get a hat and grab a glass of champagne and you’re set!

  9. Speaking of adopting foreign holidays, my wife is Korean. When she moved here in 1985 she had never heard of Halloween. The only people in Korea at that time who dressed up in scary costumes were the shamanists and witches, and it was almost never good if they came to visit (especially for her since her family was Christian). Needless to say, the first time she saw a bunch of trick or treaters dressed as monsters, zombies and devils she practically freaked and thought “What kind of country have I moved to?”

    Sine we’ve been married we celebrate pretty much all of the American holidays (excepting halloween still) and most of the Korean holidays as well.

    While on the subject of holidays, today feels like one for me. I just finished the production and uploading of my fourth podcast novel. Now that’s something for me to celebrate…with some sleep.

  10. Party time will once they sell, for cash money, and the degree of party will be equal to the size of advance.

    For now though…rest. Four books written and podcasted in two and a half years. I’m tired.

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