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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



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 to do.
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 Spoto (1989)

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, TV producer

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 it!"
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1881) by Margaret Sidney (1844-1924), American writer

. . . "it can't be Christmas all the time." Ibid.

God rest ye, little children; let nothing you afright,
For Jesus Christ, your Saviour, was born this happy night;
Along the hills of Galilee the white blocks sleeping lay,
When Christ, the child of Nazareth, was born on Christmas day.
"Christmas Carol," St. 2, by Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887), English poet, writer

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents."
Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), American editor, writer

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 (2001)

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 void.
"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 of cheer,
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 Tobin, tr.

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 writer

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 past,
A bubble on the water's shining face,
What yet remain, till the first transient blast,
Shall leave no more remembrance of their place.
"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; poet, painter)

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, actor

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
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.
To 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 than his.
Deborah, Golda, and Me (1991) by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (1939- ), American writer, columnist, editor, peace activist; co-founder, Ms. magazine (* read at Passover)

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, educator

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 chain.
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

Return to "Women of Wisdom" Main Page

Elaine Bernstein Partnow is the editor of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect fit for this task. Compiler of the noted work The 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. The 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, The 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 site: www.TheQuotableWoman.com.



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