Tag Archives: seasons

New Year’s Eve Symbols

Times Square New Year's Eve BallTimes Square Ball
Susan Serra, CKD
derivative work: Sealle
CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When I read that The Ball at Times Square “has become the world’s symbolic welcome to the New Year,” I felt surprised. I never considered that The Ball had such universal meaning. I’ll tell you what I think about when I see The Ball.

I grew up in New York City. Every year, we gathered with family in front of the TV, and watched The Ball drop at Times Square. As soon as The Ball dropped, we blew noise-makers, shook clangers, and hollered outside to welcome in the new year.

When I got older, when I saw The Ball, I thought of movies with formal gowns and tuxedos, caviar and champagne, and crystal chandeliers.

When I moved away from New York City, I surprised people when they found out that I was never at Times Square when The Ball dropped. I never knew anyone who was. I never considered being there. So, I took a friend so he could tick this item off his “Someday” list.

When we got there, I felt delighted by the clutter of the familiar noise of traffic, chatter of people, and cacophony of music. I saw stages set up around the Square — I had no idea that this was how they broadcasted from the site — maybe 30 to 50 feet high. They were temporary platforms projecting from the sides of buildings, with large rooms behind them, perhaps hospitality suites. The celebrities and their guests, crews, and other supporters had comfortable places to go; the temperature was dropping.

New York Times SquareNew York Times Square
By Terabass
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My favorite vendors had push carts that stayed at their assigned street corners from lunch time until late at night. Each one had a smokey open-top oven, and small crinkly paper bags for roasted chestnuts. The aroma was heavenly, and, each time we walked by a chestnut vendor, I breathed in as much of the smoke as I could.

Other vendors walked about. Most passed us by, hawking their wares. One put a sparkly New Year’s Eve hat on my head and got the people around me to say how great I looked. Another attached himself to my friend and me, insisting that we wanted one of his monkey puppets. He kept bringing the price down as he showed what he could do with it. It kicked, bounced, and wiggled as it danced. It laid its long, floppy, soft arms across our shoulders, and looked into our eyes like a homeless puppy. We enjoyed his show until he realized that we really weren’t going to buy one, even “for only 2 dollars 2 dollars 2 dollars”. When another couple showed interest in his show, he attached himself to them.

Finally, the time came for The Ball to drop. Everyone was cheerful as we huddled together. We were warmer now. We shouted out the countdown, and cheered when the ball hit its destination.

Celebrities were clearing from their stages. We began to move to leave. The happy chatter became tense. People pressed more tightly against me. What had been good-humored crowding became frantic urges to flee. People transformed from festive revelry to panic. The police waved their arms, shouted, and insistently told us to back up, but people behind us pushed us forward. People packed tighter around me. The crowd began pulsing forward and back. I thought of recent news stories about people being trampled by crowds, and suddenly I understood how that could happen. As the pulsing waves became larger, I looked on the ground the best I could, to make sure I wasn’t trampling anyone, but if I was, I could not move independently because we had packed together so tightly. We were the throbbing heartbeat of New York City, moving forward and back, forward and back.

At last, I noticed that we were making progress, moving closer to where I wanted to go. Then, I saw that the police had put up saw horses that restricted the width of the streets so cars wouldn’t mingle with us, but those barriers also restricted the flow of people leaving the area. We had squeezed into a bottle-neck.

Eventually, like ketchup, we glugged out of the crowd, out toward the open streets. I welcomed the freedom of the new year, and I welcome that now, as I like to welcome it at the change of each season.

You have probably heard that freedom comes with responsibility. As a member of the crowd, I was not responsible if I trampled someone. I was caught in the heartbeat of the city. Likewise, I wonder how much freedom and responsibility people have in any overwhelming crowd. Perhaps they get caught in its heartbeat.

So, The Ball was a key element of New Year’s Eve as I was growing up, and then a conspicuous spark to one particularly memorable New Year’s Eve. I wonder if you ever think of The Ball during your celebrations this time of year, and if something else is more meaningful for you.

I wonder when and how your year begins.

Thanksgiving Days

When I was in college, each time that I drove on the interstate highway past a certain Indian reservation, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see it. I repeatedly looked at maps to verify that I was looking in the right place. I could not see teepees anywhere.

TeePee Watercolor painting by Karl Bodmer 1832-1834
This work is in the public domain

A few years later, I was lost. As I drove along, I saw signs on both sides of the road stating that I was in an Indian reservation. I became super-alert, expecting men to jump out at me from behind the trees, wearing war paint and loincloths, and threatening to attack me with tomahawks.

Indians with Tomahawks attack a womanThe Death of Jane McCrea Oil painting by John Vanderlyn 1804
This work is in the public domain

A few years after that, a friend mentioned that we were passing through an Indian reservation. All I saw was normal homes, and wondered why I couldn’t see where the Indians lived.

Indian homes?Photo by Cameron Slater, April 26, 2013
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

How the heck could a High Honors student who was relatively enlightened about world cultures learn to be so dumb? I expected to find teepees inhabited in an area where several feet of snow accumulate, and temperatures drop below zero Fahrenheit. I expected characters from an old wild wild west movie to emerge from the woods near where I had lived for several years. I was so sure that Indians lived in teepees, I didn’t think to ask anyone where the Indians really lived.

Thanksgiving Day in the United States

Today, I say Happy Thanksgiving to my neighbors here in the United States. Although this is a secular holiday, most houses of worship host celebrations of thanks to God this morning. Then, we celebrate our relationship with the Earth by feasting at each other’s homes. It is a time of abundant food and hospitality. We often celebrate with local foods, freshly prepared. We enjoy the colors and textures of a wide variety of foods. The aromas, flavors. Conversations with loved ones.

Thanksgiving DinnerPhoto Credit: Remi Levoff,  November 16, 2011
Creative Commons License

According to my review of trends on the internet this week, the most common foods for today are herb-roasted turkey, bread stuffing with celery and onions, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, Parker House rolls, and pumpkin and apple pies. We make these from ingredients that are typically harvested at the end of our growing season. This menu is consistent from year to year.

This year, our Thanksgiving coincides with Hanukkah, but I didn’t see much mention of that online.

Global Thanksgiving Days

Throughout the year, I say Happy Thanksgiving to my global neighbors. Many people around the world celebrate harvests, especially as they anticipate seasons of ice, heavy rain or drought. When some people celebrate Thanksgiving holidays, they celebrate fertility as they anticipate a productive growing season.

HarvestBy Scott Bauer, USDA ARS
[Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I like that Thanksgiving continues to relate to agricultural calendars. With the strong global trend toward urbanization, I wonder how long this will continue. Perhaps it will become more of a day of general appreciation.

Thanksgiving Days For Reconciliation

Regardless of when and why we celebrate Thanksgiving, family and friends are an important element. Even those who are tough to get along with are often invited for dinner. Many people also include strangers in their observance of the day, as we share food so everyone can enjoy a feast.

This tradition of reaching out to strangers may be inspired by remembering the story of Indians welcoming Europeans and teaching them how to survive their first winters here. I have a vivid memory from my childhood of a painting showing Pilgrim men sitting at a table full of food while Indian men stood around and sat on the ground. I like to think that this image conveys the importance of replacing oppression with embracing people of diverse religions, races, sexual orientations, abilities and other differences.

First ThanksgivingThe First Thanksgiving at Plymouth Painted 1914
By Jennie A. Brownscombe
This image is in the public domain

Think of how surprised I was to find that the Wampanoag descendents of the people represented in the painting celebrate this day as National Day of Mourning. They and their supportive neighbors are recalling when they lost their lives, trust, dignity, culture, and land to the intruders.

National Day of MourningPhoto credit: nicole s
used by permission from Frank Macer of

The plaque:

National Day of Mourning

Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.

Erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England.

National Day of Mourning bannerPhoto Credit: hate5six, November 22, 2012
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

As we recognize the impact of this tragedy, let’s join with the Onondaga Indian Nation during today’s Annual Thanksgiving Circle for Peace and Hope as we celebrate our appreciation for each other and the Earth, and our commitment to work together for healing and justice, for all people and our environment.

Thanksgiving Circle of Peace and HopePhotographer: JT Lee, November 22, 2012
used by permission from Syracuse Peace Council