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Holidays in Popular Culture Robert Wonser SOC 86 – Fall 2011.

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1 Holidays in Popular Culture Robert Wonser SOC 86 – Fall 2011

2 Holidays and Rituals Holidays and rituals both generally serve the same basic role as holidays in society Holidays are defined as days on which custom or the law dictates a suspension of general business activity in order to commemorate or celebrate a particular event –The rituals associated with holidays reaffirm communal bonds (while undermining others); –Concerned with the normative dimensions of society (because they all reinforce some values); –Dramatic (they employ narratives, displays, or 3d theater-like performance)

3 Durkheim Functional Approach on Holidays A) profane (secular), routine daily life— instrumental activities (work and chores)—tend to weaken the shared beliefs and social bonds and enhance centrifugal individualism B) rituals provide a major mechanism for the re- creation of a society in which members worship the same objects and share experiences that help form and sustain deep emotional bonds among the members C)the specific elements of rituals, as well as the objects worshiped or celebrated have no intrinsic value or meaning

4 More Dukheim Weekdays are dedicated to work and commerce, people tend to abandon their commitment to shared values and communities  during holidays these shared values and commitments are reaffirmed When holidays deteriorate, so do moral and social order Rituals/holidays correlate negatively with social disintegration (excessive individualism) For Durkheim, holidays are socializing events; they reinforce shared beliefs that foster social integration

5 Expanding on Durkheim Different holidays play different societal roles Not all holidays are integrate (that is bring people together) Two types of holidays: –Recommitment holidays are those that use narratives, drama, and ceremonies to directly enforce commitments to shared beliefs –Tension management holidays fulfill this role indirectly by releasing tensions that result fr4om the close adherence to beliefs

6 Recommitment Holidays Most familiar What Durkheim had in mind –Ex: Easter, resurrection of Christ, joy and fulfillment of redemption and the rebirth and reaffirmation of faith –Ex: Passover, focus on a narrative openly dedicated to socialization (esp of children) Etzioni, 2004

7 Tension Management Holidays Expected to serve social integration indirectly and therefore pose a higher risk of malfunction –Ex: New year’s Eve, Mardi Gras During these holidays, mores that are upheld the rest of the year are suspended to allow for indulgence, and some forms of behavior usually considered asocial, and hence disintegrative, are temporarily accepted

8 Since there is residual alienation to all commitments the tension must be released through these tension management holidays to enhance socialization and resocialization Tension managements holidays that set clear time limits are expected to be more integrative than those who do not Ex: Bachelor and bachelorette parties are temporally bound by the wedding date itself (yet may be the cause of tension rather than its relief)

9 Decline of Tension Management Holidays Used to be more prevalent in the 18 th and 19 th centuries (many holidays today were this way, Christmas included) The decline of rowdy celebrations is the result of a decreasing willingness of the middle class to tolerate “routine rowdiness as a form of cathartic release among the lower orders, especially lower-class men” Victorian influence: holidays were becoming “domestic occasions” ↓ of carnivalesque celebrations came the ↑ of home and family centered celebrations such as Thanksgiving

10 From “Carnivalesque” to “child- centered” Contemporary American holidays focus on the innocence of the “wondrous child” which was unrecognizable from the rowdy celebrations of the nation’s past Compared to the 1850s one finds that tension management holidays have declined and reinforcement style have increased

11 Child Centered Holiday’s rituals were invented by adults to evoke in their offspring the wonder of childhood innocence, very often expressed through gift giving Traditional gift giving established and maintained bonds between unequals. Giving to inferiors displayed power, reinforced dependency but also harmony The thread running through this Victorian nationalization of holidays and the present commercialized holiday is the celebration of the “wondrous child” in the modern holiday. Early gifts included candy, fruits, nuts and fancy bibles.

12 The Privatization of Holidays Child centered focus led to the privatization of holidays. Celebrated in one’s home with one’s family centered around children, not the community. The increased nature of the holidays becoming privatized may likely have the effect of declining integration in society Individualism rose between 1960 and 1990 in American society, the same years holidays have become less public.

13 The Significance of the Holiday Cycle What is the social significance of the particular sequence in which holidays are arranged? That is, why were some ritualized and not others? Recommitment and tension management holidays tend to alternate Holidays focused on children, like Christmas are preceded and followed by festivities built around aggressive, sexual, adult themes (e.g. Christmas is preceded by office parties and followed by New Year’s Eve)

14 Gender and Holidays Holidays tend to lag rather than lead societal change, and the more they lag the more hinder rather than advance societal integration. The greater the sectorial lag, the more tension one would expect between the groups involved Women’s roles in holidays seem to have been akin to their roles in other parts of the socialization and moral reinforcement institutional infrastructure Women have been charged with prepping the celebratory meals, shopping for gifts, promoting the holiday spirit and so on Holidays sanctified the middle class woman as the queen of the home and underscored the importance of displaying status and wealth in making the occasion memorable.

15 Changing Women’s Roles? Since the 1960s women’s roles have begun to be recast however they still lag behind other changes in society. Regression toward traditional mores during holidays Even in households where women work outside the home and husbands assume some household and childcare responsibilities, women still do a disproportionate share of the inviting, planning and preparing, cooking and serving of holiday meals; above all women are expected to ensure the warm glow of the holiday spirit

16 Halloween’s Origins Celtic New Year’s Celebration originally called Samhain (‘Summer’s End’) October 31: when Druids warded off the hostile ghosts of the recently dead by opening their doors, offering bonfires and gifts of food to these returning dead Later dressed as ghosts themselves to shield themselves from the ghosts’ mischief The Celtic lunar calendar consisted of 13 months of 28 days each - plus one extra day to make 365 days. This extra day is October 31st, the day between the old year and the new year, a sort of ‘time between times’ when the curtain between the physical and supernatural worlds was drawn aside, allowing dead ancestors and supernatural beings (the so-called ‘faery folk’, so beloved to the traditions of Celtic countries) to cross over and visit the world of mortals.

17 Halloween in the U.S. 1930s and 1940s when Halloween becomes infantilized Rowdy Halloween behavior became unacceptable to elites So it was passed down to children in “cute” ways, like trick-or-treating In the 40s and 50s Halloween costumes were of spiritual or social outcasts (ghosts, witches, hobos and pirates) reminding householders of traditional fears of the unknown and recent social upheavals of the Depression. This soon gave way to Disney and other popular culture costumes

18 Halloween in the U.S. Parents often feel safer taking their children to the mall for trick-or-treating than letting them visit their neighbors… decline of community trust What about razor blades in candy apples? Example of moral panic (and used as a case-in-point about how morally lax our society has become) and urban legend Most reports of tampering alleged tampering with no follow up reports or arrests or physical harm to anyone. Discovery of adulterated treats = praise and recognition (for kids and adults alike) When there is rarely trouble it isn’t an anonymous sadist but a love one/

19 Thanksgiving Opposed by theologians was spread not by popular practice but by the decisions of public leaders Originally a Yankee holiday celebrated only in the North Became a national holiday after the Civil War Used to be celebrated at different days nationwide depending on the governor at the time Created by educated professionals and ‘Americanizers’ who recognized the conflicting allegiances of the masses and the need to make them into loyal citizens 1939: Used to be last week in November until President Roosevelt pushed it to the second to last week in November to allow for more shopping time before Christmas (in hopes of pulling the U.S. out of the Depression)

20 Christmas Divided early Americans between celebrants of the traditional pattern and Puritan opponents of those rituals Puritans banned it in New England In the South and middle regions where Puritans didn’t dominate it was a post- harvest season of drinking, eating and frolicking lasting from mid-December to the first Monday after New Year’s Day.

21 Christmas’s Festivities Mumming, or wassailing where groups of youths begged from door to door for food and drink and sang and toasted their benefactors Some intruded into homes wearing masks, shouts and swords. Slaves were allowed to mum in North Carolina and elsewhere Powerful and wealthy were expected (often extorted) to share their bounty Recognized the importance of these “safety valves” Christmas was a masculine outdoor holiday rather than a feminine domestic one

22 Christmas’s Origins in the US Nativity story wasn’t taught in New England until the 150s It was only between 1837 and 1890 that individual states recognized Christmas as a legal holiday in the U.S. Christmas revelries became more confrontational and disruptive when youth and the poor became further alienated and alien to the rich in the large towns Elites called for a new holiday to unify the nation They decided to build a sentimental holiday around the celebration of family rather than community, shifting the “patron-client exchange” to a parent-child bond

23 Christmas Spread by popular middle class magazines, German Christmas trees in the 1830s, English Christmas cards in the 1840s, Dutch cookies and new carols published in the 1870s and the exchange of gifts between family members No longer were children seen as servants upon who Christmas boxes were obligingly bestowed but as unique individuals whose parents happily showered with gifts The offspring represented the family and helped confirm it as a harmonious unit set apart from the public world of class differences

24 Santa Claus, Commercialism Incarnate! Used to shield the gifting process from “materialism” and commercialism Disguised the indulgence of parents from children (and to some extent, parents themselves) as well as the commercial origins of store-bought gifts Modern Christmas and commercialization appeared simultaneously. Never was there a pure Christmas of charity and simple family traditions Spending has always been a part of the modern sentimental holiday and yesterday’s tawdry commercialization of Christmas becomes today’s venerated traditions –Ex: dept store windows, Coca-Cola Santa, ornate Christmas cards, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”

25 Our Newest Holiday: Black Friday According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent 45 Billion on Black Friday million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 195 million last year. People also spent more, with the average shopper this weekend spending $365.34, up from last year’s $ Why do we participate in this madness?

26 Reflections on Black Fridays Past Virtually no shopper went alone and most went with family. Bargain hunting has become a family affair. Students reported seeing infants all the way through grandparents. In fact, many students reported that Black Friday has become a bigger holiday than Thanksgiving. As for those who weren’t with family, many reported having left them behind to go wait in line. Many reported a lack of humanity once the shopping began. That is, people had intense looks of concentration on their faces but no human emotion. Not a one smile was to be found anywhere. No one was happy! Usually a bargain is enough to bring a smile to even the staunchest curmudgeons face – not so on Black Friday. Shopping for the sake of shopping. Many people came in search of one or two items (usually for themselves and not for a loved one). If these items sold out they shopped for the sake of shopping. Even the appearance of a bargain was enough to induce purchase. People bought because they had been instructed to do so. Shopping for the sake of shopping became the objective.

27 Reflections on Black Fridays Past Many students commented on the devolution of humanity during this shopping time. Evidently, the worst comes out of people during Black Friday. In the malls and big box retailers hunters and gatherers foraged not for necessities but frivolities and several fights broke out. Two students remarked on minor fender benders in which, in between shouting bouts, eyes were focused on the treasures that lay behind the walls. One student broke up a squabble over a $59 tom-tom by flipping a coin. In the end, we are no longer people but consumers and the experience and phenomenon of shopping is more important than getting stuff we need. One student developed a set of ideal types to describe the shoppers present (thanks to Jacqueline for the names descriptions!): mission shoppers, spend money on what they may need, but bought just to get the deal, "divide and conquer" groups - groups, families, etc who split up to buy return to home base and decide whether or not to buy, and the "browsers" who were there to check out the deals.

28 Commercialization of Holidays Nothing new. We’re a capitalist society, it follows our holidays (“holy days”) would reflect that through commercialization Though communal rituals, mass produced objects acquire social and personal meanings

29 Holidays Today Child-focused holiday served social and cultural needs: –Create a counter to the class-based exchanges and conflicts of traditional celebrations –Helps with modern nostalgia and the release of tensions, no longer through “excess” but of childhood “innocence” –Child focused holiday also meshes with consumerism

30 Holidays today According to historian John Gillis, American holidays, rituals and myths are lagging behind reality—that is, they represent a distorted view of a society that is long gone, especially the notion that there was and ought to be one “traditional” kind of family. Holidays can be edited (even new ones manufactured as in the case of Kwanza reflecting the rise of multiculturalism and the Black middle class) as long as they either reflect changes in values and power relations within a society or advance thee changes without moving too far from evolving trends


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