BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
They just might be completely over, those holidays. We, outside the homeland, are in a world of hurt in this respect, particularly in the Western world that constitutes the largest portion of our Diaspora.
Now that this year’s celebrations have subsided and all that remains is the poundage added to our girth, I hope it’s safe to address a potentially sore subject.
What’s with all these Armenians celebrating on the wrong date? Of course this criticism excludes the Catholics among us. I can hear the chorus of thoughts now. “Where does he get off telling me/us I’m/we’re wrong?” “We do the gift giving on December 25 for the kids’ sake. We still go to church on January 6 and eat fish and our version of quiche (oejjeh, kookoo)” (or whatever the particular tradition is honored). “What planet does he live on? Get with the program, this is America!”
Why do we eat Easter choeregs or bastas? Why do we spray water on each other with water on Vartavar? Why do we do our “circle” dances or pretend we’re airplanes at our functions? Why do we eat jeedaboor/herisseh/keshkeg (whichever name you know the dish by)? Why… well you get the picture. We do these things because they’re ours and we cherish them. We pass them on as the flavor our nation contributes to this world of humanity.
Yet, when it comes to celebrations surrounding the birth of Christ (I mean no offense here to those who do not subscribe to this mythology- but that is what Dzenoont/Christmas is) we knuckle under to foreign influences. This is the most obvious case. Armenians do the family gathering on the eve, i.e. January 5, the church aspects largely on the sixth, and exchange gifts on December 31 with Santa Claus (Gaghant Baba, Dsmer Babee) actually visiting and dishing out the loot. This approach as an assimilative “foot in the door”.
Understandably, when our numbers were puny, it was probably very difficult to avoid getting sucked into doing everything on the Feast of St. Stephen, the proto-martyr. So, for some in our Western communities (Americas, Europe, etc) doing things on the twenty-fifth has probably become a family custom. But what about the guy, fresh-off-the-boat and seven months later he’s busy ditching traditions learned all his life because the kids are whining. Well, that’s what parents are for- to rear their young and explain why we’re different. How WE do things. When WE do things. These differences are what strengthen our efforts to maintain and develop our Armenian identity in the Diaspora, especially since in the U.S. and the West in general we’re not surrounded by religiously different people, as we are in the Middle East.
This may not be easy, especially with the hectic pace imposed on our lives in relentlessly materialistic times, but it is critical. Not expending effort in this regard also leads to intra-family difficulties. One cousin abides by our tradition, the other says, “Screw it”. Now, when the kids are getting gifts, how will the parents explain the conflicting behavior? When will the clan gather—on the foreign date or the Armenian one?
Why is this a big deal? As with giving our children Armenian, not foreign, names, it’s one more contributing factor to identity when we honor our traditions instead of adopting alien ones. So with the next new year, let’s commence the reversion before it’s all over for our holiday traditions.