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Holidays in Popular Culture


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Title: Holidays in Popular Culture

Holidays in Popular Culture
  • Robert WonserSOC 86 Fall 2011

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)

Durkheim Functional Approach on Holidays
  • A) profane (secular), routine daily
    lifeinstrumental activities (work and
    chores)tend to weaken the shared beliefs and
    social bonds and enhance centrifugal
  • 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
  • C)the specific elements of rituals, as well as
    the objects worshiped or celebrated have no
    intrinsic value or meaning

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
  • Rituals/holidays correlate negatively with social
    disintegration (excessive individualism)
  • For Durkheim, holidays are socializing events
    they reinforce shared beliefs that foster social

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

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

Tension Management Holidays
  • Expected to serve social integration indirectly
    and therefore pose a higher risk of malfunction
  • Ex New years 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

  • 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

Decline of Tension Management Holidays
  • Used to be more prevalent in the 18th and 19th
    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

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
    nations past
  • Compared to the 1850s one finds that tension
    management holidays have declined and
    reinforcement style have increased

Child Centered
  • Holidays rituals were invented by adults to
    evoke in their offspring the wonder of childhood
    innocence, very often expressed through gift
  • 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.

The Privatization of Holidays
  • Child centered focus led to the privatization of
  • Celebrated in ones home with ones 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.

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
    Years Eve)

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
  • Womens 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.

Changing Womens Roles?
  • Since the 1960s womens roles have begun to be
    recast however they still lag behind other
    changes in society.
  • Regression toward traditional mores during
  • 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

Halloweens Origins
  • Celtic New Years Celebration originally called
    Samhain (Summers 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
  • 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.

Halloween in the U.S.
  • 1930s and 1940s when Halloween becomes
  • Rowdy Halloween behavior became unacceptable to
  • 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

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 isnt an
    anonymous sadist but a love one/

  • 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)

  • 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
    didnt dominate it was a post-harvest season of
    drinking, eating and frolicking lasting from
    mid-December to the first Monday after New Years

Christmass 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
  • Powerful and wealthy were expected (often
    extorted) to share their bounty
  • Recognized the importance of these safety
  • Christmas was a masculine outdoor holiday rather
    than a feminine domestic one

Christmass Origins in the US
  • Nativity story wasnt 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
  • 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

  • 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

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 yesterdays tawdry
    commercialization of Christmas becomes todays
    venerated traditions
  • Ex dept store windows, Coca-Cola Santa, ornate
    Christmas cards, Bing Crosbys White Christmas

Our Newest Holiday Black Friday
  • According to the National Retail Federation,
    Americans spent 45 Billion on Black Friday 2010
  • 212 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
    years 343.31

Why do we participate in this madness?
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
    werent 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. 

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.

Commercialization of Holidays
  • Nothing new.
  • Were a capitalist society, it follows our
    holidays (holy days) would reflect that through
  • Though communal rituals, mass produced objects
    acquire social and personal meanings

Holidays Today
  • Child-focused holiday served social and cultural
  • 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

Holidays today
  • According to historian John Gillis,
  • American holidays, rituals and myths are lagging
    behind realitythat 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