I just finished watching a fascinating documentary on PBS entitled A Yiddish World Remembered. It looked at Jewish life in Eastern Europe before WWII, featuring the memories of eyewitnesses about life in both small villages and large cities.
In spite of the poverty faced by most and tragedy and hardship faced by all two things struck me about these wonderful old people: how proud they were of their culture and how fondly they remembered their long-ago communities and rituals. Old eyes would light up at the memory of mother's latkes and and the preparations for Sabbath. Each had some wonderful memory to hold on to of being Jewish. And it struck me, once again, how much I wish I had a culture.
I'm a typical American mutt, a mix of French, Basque, Scots, a bit of Irish and (rumor has it) a tiny tiny bit of Native Canadian. But I have no culture. I was raised Catholic but no longer believe. And anyway, Catholics don't really have a culture, just guilt (which, unfortunately, I've kept). I'm not enough of any one national culture to have grown up with Scots folk dancing or Basque ... uh ... whatever it is that Basques do (besides herd sheep). I don't look forward every year to any kind of annual festival that celebrates my identity and I don't belong to any community besides where I live and my family of wonderful friends.
And sometimes I do feel like I'm missing out.
I've mentioned before how much I envy those of my friends who have a culture, or who have cultural traditions that they celebrate. I have no such touchstones in my life. Oh I have memories, sure. But nothing that I can share with people outside of my family. Once when I was in college I introduced two people who were friends of mine but who had never met. They both had Irish last names and within minutes where trading stories of step dancing classes, fiddle lessons, and debating whose mom made the best soda bread. People from different cultures can have similar discussions. At a Greek Festival once a Japanese friend and a Greek friend started commiserating at having their parents insist on traditional dress for certain occasions. All I could contribute was a story about how my mother would always try to get me into a dress for Easter.
There is a certain sense of rootlessness I feel at times. Sure we celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving, but neither has a sense of continuation about it, though I do hang on tightly to what few rituals I do have regarding these occasions. For instance, I insist on a real tree. I always have to watch White Christmas while trimming the tree. And I don't consider Thanksgiving complete without the traditional food.
But sometimes I wish I had traditional dress or ancient dances, remembered prayers or a larger community with whom to celebrate occasions. Husband has no culture either so we share this desire. Although raised in the African American community, he feels to desire to start celebrating Kwanzaa or start wearing dashikis in public. I guess he and I are just destined to remain rootless mutts.