CELEBRATIONS & HOLIDAYS
It is November, winter is upon us, and a
whole series of holidays are coming up:
Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Ramadan, Winter
Solstice, Christmas, New Year's yikes! On
top of this, there are all the usual and
important birthdays and anniversaries. Hectic,
horrid, merry, delicious, filled with harried
shopping, party-going, and overeating. Being
with the ones you love - or not; being lonely,
feeling far away and isolated. Everyone
experiences different holidays in different
ways. In this quarter's selection we observe
notable women whose thoughts range from
the pleasures found in a simple, weekly
holiday like the Sabbath, to those who dread
their birthdays, to those who either love
or hate Christmas.
Holidays and one's responses to them will
probably change over the years: when I was
in my twenties and early thirties, an Open
House on Christmas day for all my many friends
in Los Angeles who were far from home became
a welcome ritual for us all. When my husband
and I moved to New Orleans, no one came
to our first Open House; I was so depressed,
I stopped having them for our remaining
years in the Big Easy. When we moved to
Seattle, I had family there; through them
and our work, we developed many good friends:
Open House once again became a ritual looked
forward to by our loved ones. Now, living
on a somewhat remote island off the Gulf
coast of Florida, we once again are faced
with a change in how our winter holidays
are celebrated. One thing, however, has
not changed, for me and for many: holiday
time is still a time for reflection. May
the following selection serve as a prop
for your days of reflection, and may I wish
all my readers a holiday season of peace,
reason, and joy.
In sisterhood, Elaine
Bernstein Partnow, Editor
QUOTATIONS ON HOLIDAYS
Holidays are enticing only for the first
week or so. After that, it is no longer
such a novelty to rise late and have little
A Jest of God (later known as Rachel,
Rachel; 1966) by Margaret Laurence
(1926- ), Canadian writer; Governor General
Award, 1967, 1974
I don't like holidays, not here [the U.S.A.]
-- it's a giant supermarket, and I'm thinking
with nostalgia of my childhood with a tiny
Christmas tree . . .
Lotta Lenya (1898-1981), Austrian-American
singer-actor; Tony, 1956; wife of German-born
American composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950),
Quoted in Lenya, a Life by Donald
Growing up, it just wasn't Thanksgiving
unless my mother got nervous and yelled,
my sister got high-strung and slammed a
few doors, and dad overate to the point
of indigestion and acute gastritis. Ah,
the good ol' days.
Cancer, Schmancer (2002) by Fran
Drescher (1957- ), American actor, comedian,
I close my eyes and think of Grandma tasting
a bit of her childhood each Chanukah when
she prepared the latkes as her mother had
made them before her. My mother, my aunts,
my own grandmothers float back to me, young
and vibrant once more, making days holy
in the sanctuaries of their kitchens, feeding
me, cradling me, connecting me to the intricately
plaited braid of their past, and even at
this moment, looking down the corridor of
what's to come, I see myself join them as
they open their arms wide to enfold my children
and grandchildren in their embrace.
And the Bridge is Love (1991) by
Faye Moskowitz (1930- ), American
writer, radio commentator, educator
There is a deep moral influence in these
periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which
whole communities participate. They bring
out, and together, as it were, the best
sympathies in our natures.
Traits of American Life (1835) by
Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), American
writer, editor, poet; first woman magazine
editor in U.S.; established Thanksgiving
as national holiday; established Mount Vernon
as national shrine
Did you know there's a new Jewish holiday?
It's October 21, the day the new Cadillacs
go on sale.
Pearl Williams (fl. 1930s-50s), American
comedian, from her stand-up routine
"It's better'n a Christmas," they
told their mother, "to get ready for
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
(1881) by Margaret Sidney (1844-1924),
. . . "it can't be Christmas all
God rest ye, little children; let nothing
For Jesus Christ, your Saviour, was born
this happy night;
Along the hills of Galilee the white blocks
When Christ, the child of Nazareth, was
born on Christmas day.
"Christmas Carol," St. 2, by Dinah
Mulock Craik (1826-1887), English poet,
"Christmas won't be Christmas without
Little Women (1868) by Louisa
May Alcott (1832-1888), American editor,
I love the Christmas-tide, and yet;
I notice this, each year I live;
I always like the gifts I get,
But how I love the gifts I give!
"A Thought" by Carolyn Wells
(1869-1942), American writer, humorist
And I swear, I can't see a cypress Santa
or an alligator-drawn sleigh without thinking
of how my Montgomery, Ala., mother whipped
up a Christmas.
"Visions of mother whipping up Christmas
dance in my head" in Seattle Post-Intelligencer
(9 December 1998) by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
(1953- ), American columnist
Oh, the Shepards in Judea!
Do you think the shepards know
How the whole round world is brightened
In the ruddy Christmas glow?
"The Shepards in Judea" by Mary
Hunter Austin (1868-1934), American
suffragist, lecturer, writer
Heap high the board with plenteous cheer,
and gather to the feast,
And toast the sturdy Pilgrim band whose
courage never ceased.
"The First Thanksgiving Day" by
Alice Williams Brotherton (fl. 1880s-1930),
American poet, writer, lecturer
For Thanksgiving last year I made a seventeen-pound
turkey . . . pot pie.
Wendy Liebman (1961- ), American
comedian; Best Female Stand-up, American
Comedy Awards, 1997; Quoted in The Haunted
Smile, The Story of Jewish Comedians
in America by Lawrence J. Epstein
New Year's Eve is not one of my favorite
celebrations, never has been. The old year
with all its surprises and disappointments,
triumphs and mistakes, has become a friend
-- congenial, undemanding. A new year stretches
ahead, fresh as white snow, pristine, perfectly
"Crossing the Threshold: Fear or Feelings"
by Marion Woodman (1928- ), Canadian
Jungian analyst, author, in The Fabric
of the Future: Women Visionaries of Today
Illuminate the Path to Tomorrow, M.J.
Ryan, ed. (1998)
Then sing, young hearts that are full
With never a thought of sorrow;
The old goes out, but the glad young year
Comes merrily in tomorrow.
The Little Corporal (1865) by Emily
Miller (1833-1913), American poet, social
reformer, writer, journalist, editor
The year is at its close,
A spindle ravels thinning thread;
One strand is left, a single hour.
And time, a glowing, pulsing rose,
Will crumble as a final flower,
Dusty and dead.
"The Last Day of the Year" ("Am
letzen Tage des Jahres") by Anette
Elizabeth von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848),
German poet, novelist, An Anthology of
German Poetry from Hölderlin to Rilke
(1960), Angel Flores, ed., James Edward
Her birthdays were always important to
her; for being a born lover of life, she
would always keep the day of her entrance
into it as a very great festival indeed.
. . .
Green Dolphin Street (1944) by Elizabeth
Goudge (1900-1984), English-American
Drat my hateful birthday
to be spent in the boring old country.
Untitled poem by Sulpicia (fl. 60s
B.C.E.-14 C.E.), Roman poet, John Dillon,
tr., in The Penguin Book of Women Poets
(1978), Carol Cosman, Joan Keefe and
Kathleen Weaver, eds.
And what are they -- a vision all the
A bubble on the water's shining face,
What yet remain, till the first transient
Shall leave no more remembrance of their
"My Own Birth-Day" (1 August 1761)
by Susanna Wright (1697-1784), English-American
painter, frontierswoman, poet, letter writer,
scholar; quoted in Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary
America (1981) Patti Cowell, ed.
Because the birth of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
"A Birthday" (1861) by Christina
Rossetti (1830-1894), English poet,
writer; sister of Dante Gabriel R- (1828-82;
Birth day odes to lords and kings,
Oft are strain'd and stupid things!
Poet laureate's hackney'd praise!
"An Ode Written on the Birthday of
Mr. Henry Ferguson By His Wife When They
Had Been Married Two Years, He Aged 26 Years"
(12 March 1774) by Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson
(1737-1801), American diarist, letter
writer, poet, translator, society leader;
quoted in Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary
America (1981), Patti Cowell, ed.
The very fact that we make such a to-do
over golden weddings indicates our amazement
at human endurance. The celebration is more
in the nature of a reward for stamina. .
Free Admission (1948) by Ilka
Chase (1905-1978), American writer,
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific
that can be celebrated every day.
"Possibilities," Nothing Twice
(1997), Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare
Cavanagh, trs., by Wislawa Szymborska
(1923- ), Polish essayist, poet; Goethe
Prize, 1991; Herder Prize, 1995; Nobel Prize,
1996; wife, Adam Wlodek (1; poet); Kornel
Filipowicz (2; writer)
. . . arise, and eat bread, and let thine
heart be merry.
Jezebel (fl. 870s-d. 853 B.C.E.),
Phoenician queen, quoted in 1 Kings, c.
550 B.C.E., Old Testament
. . . come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
The Book of Light (1993) by Lucille
Clifton (1936- ), American children's
writer, poet, poetry educator
Even the most harried workdays become tolerable
when you know a day of holy peace is shortly
arriving. The days succeeding the day of
rest become days of light too. They shimmer
with the afterglow of a revived spirit.
Begin Again (1998) by Naomi Levy
(1963- ), American rabbi
Celebrating a Sabbath day is a way to take
one day out of each week and live it differently.
In peace. It is not only a time to stop
work, it is also a time to stop thinking
about work. It is not a restriction, it
is a freedom. Ibid.
Year after year, the Haggadah,* the retelling
of Israel's liberation from bondage, came
to us in my father's authoritative bass
voice, annotated by the symbols, songs,
and rituals that he brought upstage like
some great maestro conducting the solo parts
of the seder symphony. It took me years
to see that my father's virtuosity depended
on my mother's labor and that the seders
I remember with such heartwarming intensity
were sanctified by her creation even more
Deborah, Golda, and Me (1991) by
Letty Cottin Pogrebin (1939- ), American
writer, columnist, editor, peace activist;
co-founder, Ms. magazine (* read
All rituals are paradoxical and dangerous
enterprises, the traditional and improvised,
the sacred and the secular. Paradoxical
because rituals are conspicuously artificial
and theatrical, yet designed to suggest
the inevitability and absolute truth of
their messages. Dangerous because when we
are not convinced by a ritual we may become
aware of ourselves as having made them up,
thence on the paralyzing realization that
we have made up all our truths; our ceremonies,
our most precious conceptions and convictions--all
are mere inventions.
Number our Days (1979) by Barbara
Myerhoff (1935-1985), American writer,
Ritual places personal experience in the
public realm where it may be witnessed,
dealt with, and shared.
"The Womb and the Word: A Fertility
Ritual for Hannah," by Penina V.
Adelman (1953- ), American storyteller,
social worker, quoted in Four Centuries
of Jewish Women's Spirituality (1992),
Ellen M. Umansky & Dianne Ashton, eds.
It is Thanksgiving
I am thankful for the joy and the task
The soft burp of cranberries popping in
the boiling pot
The smoothing whir of electric beaters
ironing out yams
The surprise of Everest peaks looming up
out of soft white foam
for the stirring
"A Woman Cooking" (1978) by Elaine
Bernstein Partnow (1941- ), American
writer, editor, performance artist
For today I am cooking
Today I am a woman cooking
on a day when women cook Ibid.
Tradition implies process and change, the
movement of the past into the future, the
continual forging of links on an unending
The Book of Blessings: A Feminist-Jewish
Reconstruction of Prayer (1992) by Fanchon
Shur (1935- ), American dancer, choreographer
In indigenous traditions, if you receive
a vision -- one of those spectacular moments
of understanding -- you have to share it
with others through music, dance, poetry
or art in order for it to work its wonder.
Linda Vallejo (195?- ), American
sculptor, printmaker; quoted in Exposures,
Women & Their Art (1989) by Ann
Brown & Arlene Raven
Woman -- as tender of the hearth, custodian
of most ethnic rituals and religious customs,
safe-guarder of tribal memory -- stands
in contrast to man the explorer, innovator,
technocrat, who in his nomadic obsession
for power and control tends to neglects
many time-honored traditions.
"Women's Rites," Vogue
(September 1980) by Francine Du Plessix
Gray (1930- ), Polish-American writer
to "Women of Wisdom" Main Page
Bernstein Partnow is the editor
of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect
fit for this task. Compiler of the noted
Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years,
Elaine started working on the first edition,
way back in 1974, she was making the transition
from actor to writer. Now in its 5th edition.
Quotable Woman has become the standard
book of quotations for women's studies programs
and organizations all over the English-speaking
world. She also wrote The
Female Dramatist a few years back, and
has just came out with a new collection,
Quotable Jewish Woman, Wisdom, Inspiration
and Humor from the Mind and Heart. Elaine
has marveled at how her work in women's
history has changed who she is and how she
is. Ever eager to share that experience
with others, she merged her two passions
- acting and women's studies - and began,
in 1984, to present living history portraits
of notable women to civic and educational
institutions. To date she has given more
than 400 such presentations to upwards of
50,000 people, not only across the U.S.A.,
but in Mexico and even China! You can find
out more about Elaine by visiting her web