In every community there is a woman who, year round, dons a seasonal ornament on her coat or blouse, close to her heart. November’s turkey, February’s Valentine, March’s four-leaf clover, Easter themes for April — whatever the occasion, she celebrates with a display for all to see. I call her, with affection, The Holiday Lady.
She is a surefooted yet soft-spoken senior who corrects people who call her by abbreviated versions of her given name, Margaret or Rosemary. She votes the same ticket every election, keeps low-interest bearing CDs at the neighborhood bank and has gardened the same patch in the back of her house for more than 40 years. In large noisy cities, you might find her packing fudge squares in one of the few remaining old-fashioned candy shops. She could have been one of Jimmy Stewart’s Bedford Falls neighbors in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Many of the decorative knickknacks she wears are homemade, the few exceptions gleaned as irresistible bargains, the kind one finds in the marked down pile of post-holiday sales. But each piece is unique and cherished and prompts her to recall people and events from her past. Though her uncomplicated gestures seem laughably provincial to some, she is a powerful reminder of who we are and what we come from. And for this reason this woman, so indifferent to the spotlight, stands as a powerful symbol for me.
In my childhood The Holiday Lady stood in sharp contrast to my two immigrant parents with their thick European accents and inviolate sense of ethnic pride. I remember thinking of her as the grandmother to Dick and Jane in my first grade reader. I’d imagine the three of them baking pies from handpicked blueberries while a large pot of soup simmered close by. I envied that wholesome sense of Americana that I only got to read about in books.
During my adolescence I resented the symbol of The Holiday Lady, and her seemingly plodding dispassionate life. I saw her as someone dangerous in her passivity; deluded by her allegiance to ordinary old style values. I would contemptuously call her a greeting card company invention, a mass-produced model of someone with little to think about and no sense of real purpose or commitment.
Now, as an adult slowly approaching the senior side of my years, this woman evokes a new dimension of feeling. Whether she is the greeter at the local warehouse club or sits next to me in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, there is a new respect for her steadiness and calm. It’s no coincidence that ad agencies use her generic face to conjure images of home and hearth, wholesome simplicity, a sense of nostalgia. She has come to represent a quiet steady heartbeat; a reassuring counterpoint in a world that often feels like it has gone awry.
There will never be a shortage of people who are happiest carrying placards, phoning in angry opinions and writing heated diatribes.
The Holiday Lady, however, will continue to concentrate on the ever-changing seasons and the next ornament she will wear to remind us that there is always something to celebrate. And if it happens that she lives in a big city, chances are she’ll be hand pouring seasonal candies in a store that some will call “vintage,” others a thorn in the side of the modern world.