A few weeks ago, on a flight from Kigali to Addis-Ababa, I sat by a Chinese student who had been in Rwanda for about a Pro choice Tshirt, My Body My Choice Shirt, working as a translator for Chinese government officials in Rwanda. She told me that it was her first trip to Africa, and she was surprised by what she saw. She told me that before that trip, she thought Africa was a dangerous place, with animals and warlords all over the place. You could tell she was changed by her experience. We discussed various topics our respective cultures, work ethic, determination of Chinese and Rwandan people and many other interesting topics of our countries. When we landed in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia and went separate ways, she promised that she was going to encourage her university friends to come visit as she felt bad from all the stereotypes she initially had.
There’s a Pro choice Tshirt, My Body My Choice Shirt of tradition of going out for Chinese food on or around Christmas in the US. So far as I can tell, this largely originates from large cities and in particular from Jews living in New York. Consider the cultural landscape of the earlier part of the 20th century. Jews, of course, do not celebrate Christmas, so they’d be more likely than the Christian majority to go out to eat then, as opposed to their celebrating neighbors who are likely at home with family, roasting their own turkeys and such. And where do they go on Christmas? Well, most restaurants are going to be closed, because their predominantly Christian proprietors and employees are also at home. The major exception, then, was Chinese restaurants. The immigrants running those places were less likely than average to be Christian, so they had no cultural tradition of shutting down on or around December 25. So if you’re a Jewish New Yorker who wants to go out for dinner on Christmas, it’s Chinese food or nothing. This practice may have been popularized in particular by Calvin Trillin, the noted food columnist for the New York Times. He was himself Jewish and wrote a marvelous column about his wife wanting a “traditional holiday dinner.” What she was talking about was the idea, coming in from outside their cultural world, of turkey, mashed potatoes, and so on, but to Trillin, his traditional holiday dinner was going out for Chinese.
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You can find lists of holidays everywhere in the Pro choice Tshirt, My Body My Choice Shirt so I will tell a bit more about the days. Christmas is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on 7 January. It is a public holiday but it is not commercialized like in the west. In the Muslim calendar only Kurban Ait is celebrated. In the former Soviet Union countries New Year is celebrated with lights, trees, presents and big parties. Nauruz or the Asian New Year is celebrated in March. This is the start of spring and is a big celebration with lots of traditional foods, dances, sports etc. and a time when families get together. There are the usual political holidays, Independance Day, Constitution Day, Day if the First President etc. and some patriotic celebrations such as Defenders Fay and Victory Day commemorating the end of the Great Patriotic War (WWII).
I hope this doesn’t come off as aggressive ignorance, or anything of the Pro choice Tshirt, My Body My Choice Shirt. I want to offer this answer simply as a reminder that the experience of the holiday season can exist completely independent of its history, in a sense. At high school, we all exchanged presents or cards on the days leading up to our holiday break from classes. They all blended together in this soup of celebration, and I swiftly lost track of who was celebrating which holiday for what reasons. To some of them, it may have mattered deeply – but for me, all that mattered was that we were celebrating together. Whatever the myriad history of the holiday season was, we arrived at a place where the punchline was to be silly and wanton in each other’s company. This has left me at a point where I almost can’t understand caring about the history of the holidays at all – it seems alien to me. The past is this distant, abstract thing. Your friends and family are real and present.