In my experience, Australians are always surprised to learn that Americans don’t get two days off over the Easter weekend. Though it wanders around the calendar like a drunk stumbling home from the bar, the Easter long weekend and accompanying school holidays are a treasured bit of rest just as the weather starts to get a little crispy — at least, crispy by Australian standards. By that point, the year’s first South Pacific storms are producing solid groundswells, and as a kid my fellow grommets and I were always breaking out our wetsuits for the first time of the year.
I grew up in a town that gets pretty chilly (again, by Australian standards). The Easter weekend was therefore a last chance to go camping down at the beach before winter’s long freeze, characterized by icy winds cutting through school jumpers and cold stars winking across clear night skies.
But in the United States, Easter comes and goes with little fanfare at all. As a de-doctrinated Catholic, I barely notice it at all anymore. Just as Australians are surprised that Americans don’t get Easter off, Americans are surprised to learn that Australians do.
So while I slightly mourn the loss of Easter — which I will always associate with raucous Catholic school chocolate egg hunts, unusually long masses and the first whiff of neoprene on a crisp beach morning — I feel compensated by North America’s observance of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving commemorates a 17th century feast shared by the Wampanoag people and New England colonists in present-day Massachussetts. It’s a four-day weekend in a country whose working population is perversely averse to actually taking the few holidays they get. It’s a glutton’s dream of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. It also acts as a buffer preventing Christmas songs and decorations from sprawling deeper into the preceding year, as it does in Australia. In a word: it’s awesome.
From a sociological perspective, I suspect the content of these holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving, whatever) doesn’t really matter — it’s the timing that counts: they both fall (pardon the pun) at the beginning of the winter season, just as the weather starts to get shitty. After summer vacations and that special slackness that permeates the workplace during the warm months, winter is a time to button down and get shit done. White collar workers are pressing toward end-of-year goals (in Australia, the financial new year begins on July 1st — in the dead of southern winter) and blue collar workers are often dealing with mother nature’s worst. To me, these autumn four-day weekends feel like a final fig leaf from corporate powers that be, a chance to catch one’s breath before plunging into the longest, coldest, busiest time of year.
And then there’s Halloween. It originates with a Celtic pagan festival for the dead, which medieval popes tried to accommodate into the wider pantheon of Christian holidays by smothering it under All Saint’s Day. While it isn’t an actual holiday in the U.S., it does have the nice side effect of transforming your same-old neighbourhood walk into a scene straight out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
We live in a Seattle neighbourhood called Wallingford. In a city that grew faster than any other American metropolis during the last decade, Wallingford is a weird little vestige of freestanding homes, backyards and quiet suburban streets just a stone’s throw from downtown. It’s also sprinkled with mansions split into apartments (like our place), plus new Dutch-style condos. Plenty of residents want to preserve this wealthy, mostly white neighborhood’s cute tradesman aesthetic while others, citing affordability issues, argue we could be using this prime real estate to house more (less white and/or wealthy) Seattleites. This tedious debate plays out all the time with typical online vitriol on our local Facebook group, and I only mention it so you know that Wallingford is suburbia, but it’s as dense, forest-like (due to all the old trees) and pedestrian-friendly as suburbia gets. There are a lot of proud homeowners here — the gardens are unlike anything I have ever seen before — and they get all the way into Halloween.
H and I have been taking photos on our walks over the last few weeks, and I’m going to post a few of my favourites below. First, however, I’m going to drop in a musical accompaniment that’s kind of related (spider theme, Seattle band, great night-walking tune and it’s my blog so I do what I like), so hit “play” on that sucker and start scrolling:
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