NEBRASKAland December 2017

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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50 NEBRASKAland • DECEMBER 2017 The Holiday Seasons And a time for every purpose. By Roger Welsch T his time of year is often referred to as the "holiday season," but for a folklorist with a special interest in traditional foodways, which is to say ME, November and December are like a cultural laboratory where all the petri dishes are in full flower. It's a time when I almost giggle at the thought of living in Nebraska, imbedded as it is in dramatic seasonal changes and garnished with an ethnic patchwork. For one thing, we have once again survived harvest; I'm not a farmer other than in the sense that living here we are all farmers, but I get some sense of the ferocity of harvest ... I've always thought of it as a "campaign," complete with monster moon machines lurching across fields and down roads, everything in a rush, eyes always to the skies. Down through time this has been the point in the year when Nebraskans from Pawnee and Omaha to Linda's Czech relatives could assess how well the crops had done, how much was in the cellar and silo, should livestock now be taken for the larder, whether that be buffalo or hogs. And a time for thanksgiving, long before that holiday had been established or observed. I may be wrong ... Linda reminds me that I have been now and again ... but I see the holiday of Thanksgiving as the truly American national holiday. Whatever our historical, racial, cultural, or religious backgrounds, on this one day we all sit down at roughly the same time for approximately the same meal. And eating together is a long-standing human way of establishing peace, acknowledging relationships, and establishing trust. So we eat and drink – probably too much, but that's also traditional – watch a football game (which, by the way, the Pilgrims did, too!), and consider all this common to us as Americans. And then precisely a month later, we reverse course and consider our differences, religious, cultural, ethnic, regional, and familial. Or maybe how we are the same even in being different, whether we see this time of giving, love, light, and joy as Christmas, Hanukkah, or solstice. I have celebrated the day(s) with meals of carp and potatoes, lutefisk and lefsa, handgames and frybread, dredl and menorah, glogg and kringele, ham and yams, drums from a kiva and a deer dance where an hour earlier a Catholic priest had celebrated Mass. And more, the menu determined by a family's specific heritage, memories, faith, and history. You know the routine: I'm sure I could ask each and every person reading this "What do you do for that ... you know ... December holiday of giving and light?" And you'd know exactly what I am asking for. And every response would be different. Louise Pound, in a very early work on Nebraska folklore, wrote something like, "No reason to describe what a Nebraska pioneer [Christmas] celebration is like because everyone knows what it is." Well ... yes and no. I know how MINE goes. We don't even all agree on when to open presents! Christmas Eve? Christmas Eve DAY? Christmas morning? (Or like me, shake, rattle, inspect, deduct, and know what's in each package a week before.) Some Christmases of 40 years ago, however, stick in my mind as true representations of the holiday brought to a fine, maybe even perfect, edge. Some friends of mine owned a small-town tavern, known well outside its immediate neighborhood for fine steaks at reasonable prices. As usual, the owners, husband and wife, closed the place for Christmas Day. Sort of. Or more precisely, they OPENED the place for the day; the cash register didn't open. The kitchen was as busy as ever, the taps were running, the bartender was pouring drinks, a regular played the piano, the place was jammed, you couldn't hear yourself think for all the talking and laughter. Plates were piled high, glasses were full. And all the regulars were in their usual booths, perched on their special bar stools.

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