My Secular Holidays

This has been one of many three day weekends that dot the calendar for workers. In addition to the ten federal holidays, many public school calendars are peppered with other holidays, including the aptly named “Spring Holiday.” It’s the weekend which I find myself in the middle of – straddled by yesterday’s Good Friday (which I spent doing chores) and tomorrow’s Easter Sunday (probably big meals and egg decorating). Early in my schooling years I remember being told that every month had at least one day off except April, which is where Spring Holiday comes in. This holiday is also conveniently on Good Friday. Every. Single. Year. (Except 2005, which brought about this protest at my rival school).

As an atheist, I don’t have many holidays to observe, and I usually get pushed into quasi-celebrating the major Christian holidays around me. But while I don’t believe, I do so like tradition. My parents raised me with little in the ways of religious tradition – everyone assumed I was Protestant, while I was rarely if ever aware of that fact. And so I find myself settling in by re-appropriating all of the pagan traditions that were stolen by the Holy Roman Empire. While Easter might signify some major events in Christianity, to us non-believers it’s a time filled with the most fertile things nature has to offer: eggs, bunnies, and spring time. And chocolate. My traditions don’t include fasting and morning mass – I usually just blow up Peeps in the microwave.

Every year I hear a lot of people lamenting the commercialization of their favorite holiday, but I can’t help but think it’s awesome. The only thing I find significant about Christmas is spending time with family and decorating the house (and gifts, of course). So if Target’s annual explosion of decor makes this easier, I’m for it. If it becomes easier to find winter-themed plates and reindeer salt and pepper shakers, then I suppose I’m happy. For me, virtually all of my holidays are comprised of shopping for things, helping my wife bake something awesome, and then hanging out with people. Plus, I’m sure one of those actions helps the economy or something.

Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting up with a number of people who will be celebrating Easter. I’ll be celebrating warmer weather by decorating eggs and seeing who wins Peep Fight 2012.



It’s Christmas time in the Ross-Smith house!  Last week we got out all of the decorations in preparation for the big holiday season.  This week (and some of next) we’re wrapping up school work and we’re officially a month out from the BIG DAY, so it’ll be a busy month.  I’m taking a break from the first of four papers to toss up some pictures of our winter-themed house! I’ll be putting up quite a few posts soon, so take this as a preview of sorts.

Happy Holidays, everyone!


Typed on the evening of the 5th back home in Lira.

Yesterday was a busy, busy day.  I tried to see everyone I could, which resulted in saying hi to George when I woke up before flying across the city to Nando’s, a food court I had never visited while in the city before.  After having a bite to eat, I walked to Garden City – a big shopping mall, and called Tony on my way to meet up.  Wandered a little bit before meeting up with Tony for a drink.  Tony is one of the Rough Cut boys from Invisible Children, and I hadn’t seen him since he came to ASU as a part of the Legacy Tour last fall, so it was really nice to catch up.

From there I got a call from Alison, who also happened to be in the city, and Tony and I went to a cafe next to Nakumatt to meet her and her friends (a group of girls from Jefferson University who were staying with the same mutual friend as Alison).  From there I made my way back across town to Wandegeya and met up with Morris for a bit.  All in all a very back-and-forth day but I’m so glad I got to see everyone – the only people I didn’t get to see were the NACWOLA group in Nsambya but I will do that before I leave!

In the evening I joined up with Alison, Ross (her friend in Kampala), Tina, Anne, Shari (Jefferson group), and a girl named Kristin from Minnesota (all staying with Ross) and made our way to the American Recreation Association for the 4th of July party.  We laid a blanket out on the lawn and saw some local tribal drummers which was pretty cool.  After that we grabbed a bite to eat – and that was small boiled hot dogs which was a little disappointing.  Regardless, I still had three hotdogs and my fair share of soda.  Then there was a presentation by a crew of children, presumably of expats.  Not only did they do the Virginia Reel (a variation of the square dance, apparently) and sing “God Bless America,” but they also recited their oath and their code.  It was surreal.  The fact that the oath included a praise to “our lord and savior” didn’t help.  It seemed really out of place.  Afterwards they brought out the expected giant American flag cake, which turned out to be less than savory according to Anne but I didn’t have any. That said, I had a lot of fun hanging out with the girls (Ross inexplicably vanished and then would return with a drink and then vanish again) and getting to know everyone.  Kristin was doing a data study on (i think) meningitis.  The girls from Jefferson were working on a project (Rotary-funded!) to bring motorcycle ambulances to a small village in the country.  And after some so-so performances, a group of local dancers and drummers came out and put on a really good show.  My camera was dying I was able to get a few gems:

Finally, the big show!  At 8 o’clock (which seemed early to me but it was definitely dark enough) the fireworks started firing.  I was pleasantly surprised at how long the show lasted and how big some of the firework displays were.  I used up my camera in the final minutes of the show:

My friends, enamored by fireworks!

The gals: Shari, Tina, Kristin, Alison, Anne

Why is July 4th Important?

On our way to the 4th of July party yesterday, a friend-of-a-friend was explaining to our driver why the 4th of July was important.  The driver was trying to figure out why we celebrated a day that we signed a paper on not the day the the Revolutionary War ended.  A few hours later I saw a friend’s facebook status explaining that we didn’t become an independent nation until years later.  So, why is July 4th, 1776 so important?

Yes, the Revolutionary War didn’t end until late 1781 with the Battle of Yorktown.  Correct, the Constitution (the law of the land) was not ratified until 1787.  True, George Washington didn’t take office until 1789.  But on July 4th, 1776 we made a statement that meant more than just “we’re independent.”  Even though it would be a decade before our country had a real government and decades still before this government could stand up on its own, 1776 was the birth of our nation in a totally different sense.

The Declaration of Independence isn’t like any other out there.  Many declarations simply cite that one group of people no longer wish to be under the rule of another and wish to separate and be, well, independent.  But our Declaration didn’t say the people in the thirteen colonies were claiming independence from Britain.

More than that, our declaration states that when any government mistreats its people, that it is the right (and duty) of the governed to fix or change that government.  Only after making this bold statement does the declaration go into why the colonists sought separation from England by listing grievances “to a candid world.”  Maybe it’s the freedom-loving side of me or the historian side, even the human rights side, but I’m pretty sure our declaration brought about a sea change in the relationship between the government and the governed and I think it is great that we can celebrate that – it’s not just the literal independence from a foreign ruler, which didn’t take place for another five years.  It’s the celebration of a new idea for the world.  I’d light a few fireworks for that.

’tis the Season

Christmas has come and passed.  Kim and I have gotten close to calling the first floor unpacked, and have had a couple of guests over to check the place out. Still have some boxes down here to sort through, and a room full of boxes upstairs.  But, in the spirit of secular gift-giving, we spruced up the place a little bit and put up a pretty (fake) tree.

Our holiday tree, with a few of the gifts for giving

We had a work party in the middle of the month, but I was forced to miss the family parties.  After not getting sick for probably a year and a half, I got a cold on Christmas Eve Eve and it has carried through to now. Yesterday I felt well enough to at least be in people’s company and got to see Kim’s family for Christmas Part II and a few of my family members for dinner at my aunt’s restaurant.  Hopefully I’ll be rearing to go with another night’s rest and can get through work just fine.

This week, Kim and I will be looking at some venues for the wedding.  We are still in the far off beginning stages, but need to at least figure out the basics (i.e. venue and date) since we’ll have some out-of-towners and the holiday-season.  Hopefully we’ll fall in love with an inexpensive, easy-to-work-with venue that’s willing to be lax on house rules.  We’ll see! I’ll update after the first few visits.

Turning 20

Tomorrow, I’ll be turning 20. So long, teenage years!  I don’t feel any different yet, but I still have a couple of hours before I officially get older.

So far, the birthday celebrations have been pretty nice.  Last night I had a tasty dinner with Kim, Cristina, Alli, Julia, and Alex (Julia’s boyfriend).  After a decent Mexican meal and some delicious cupcakes, Cristina, Alli, Kim and I stood around in the parking lot for a good three hours chatting.  I love the long talks, so it was nice to just be with my friends for an evening.

Today, Kim and I went to my parents’ house for what turned out to be a small gathering.  With my birthday always being on or around Columbus Day, there are routinely some families missing – this time there were several. But, it was all good! Kim’s parents joined us; I figure we’re getting married soon so our parents should be together more.  Overall a nice couple of days leading up to my birthday!

We’ll see how the move from adult teenager to young adult goes.