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Run 26: Holiday Traditions

April 7, 2012

Miles: 9

Other runners: 4

Smartly-brushed, happy-looking dogs: lots

Smartly-brushed, happy-looking dogs with bandannas: 2

When I lived in China the second time, I became friends with a really lovely Swiss girl named Trixy. We volunteered together in a dingy office in a crumbling apartment building, and each afternoon, as cigarette smoke wafted through the rattling, cracked windows from the men playing mahjong below, we shared stories.

Trixy was the first person I ever met who admitted to having semi-secret personal traditions, including what she called her Life Day. “Why celebrate a your birthday,” she asked, “when you don’t even remember it?” It made good sense. She told me about her Life Day traditions, which included some quiet reflection and then a big party with all her best friends. She would set out big bowls of Haribo gummi bears and pastel marshmallows, her favorite treats. The year we were together in China, her mother mailed her a bag of the gummi bears from Switzerland, and she shared them with me on Life Day.

I tried celebrating my own Life Day for a while, but I wasn’t very consistent and always felt a bit selfish about the whole thing. (Trixy, one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, could pull it off.) Instead, I somewhat inadvertently instituted a new personal tradition: the Halloween run. Looking for a distraction from funding applications a few years ago, I left the house at about 6 pm on October 31st. As the sky turned dark against the mountains, tiny orange lights twinkled in so many gnarled branches, candelit jack-o-lanterns swung suspended high above the costumed heads of trick-or-treaters, and one house pumped Thriller  through backyard speakers. It became a run I anticipated each year, even to the point of making up “cool” excuses for missing Halloween parties in order to lace up my shoes and get really sweaty.

I don’t know what I’ll do this October, but I’m pretty sure that today I began an Easter Vigil afternoon running tradition.

If I have kids someday, they’re going to participate in Lent- Wednesday night services, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the whole bit. Though every other Christian holiday has become a good, long exercise in consumption, Lent is slow and quiet. It’s a church-sanctioned opportunity to be really sad together, to think about the world and grieve and pray. I like Lent, and I realized this afternoon that my neighbors like Lent, too. There are a lot of Polish- and Spanish-speaking families in the area, so maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. But I as I ran up and down the freshly-mowed sidewalks and past so many churches, watching little ones with Easter baskets and old women setting bouquets of roses before a chipped blue and white Virgin Mary, I felt strangely home– perhaps for the first time since we moved here in December.

I also ran past a group of kids shouting and racing one another down the block. Their family member/chaperon, a man who held a bottle of Budweiser in one hand and looked and dressed like Bruno Kirby, circa When Harry Met Sally, smiled gamely at me and said hello.

Welcome to Chicago.

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