[Today’s feature photo shows part of my wife Sandy’s Santa collection, just before being packed away until next Christmas. The following article, circa 1993 was published in the Vermont Sunday Magazine and was later reprinted in the anthology Tails (and More Tales) of Beyonder. SB SM]
The Holiday Calendar, Vermont Style
You know what I like about livin’ in Vermont…the holidays. Oh, not the Hallmark holidays (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day), not the religious holy days (Easter, Christmas), not the buy-something holidays (Valentine’s, President’s Day), not the stuff-yourself-silly holidays (Thanksgiving, Halloween), and not the military commemorations (Memorial, Veterans, 4th of July). Vermont has its own set of special days that don’t require you to buy stuff your give away, send sappy cards, eat like a pig, or make things explode. Here’s a quick tour through the annual calendar.
Vermont holidays carry an extra drama, because you’re not sure when they will occur. The Thaw, for instance, can happen anytime in the month of January. The setting: The world is frozen solid. The woodstove glows cherry red. Just as you accept the fact that you’ll never see green grass again, a low-pressure system sneaks up from the South, and it’s raining! Your stone steps freeze on contact, and you take a header going out for the mail.
This is a holiday? It is if you are smart enough to say, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere today,” and settle in to watch daytime TV. It’s even more of a holiday if you do this before you take the header.
Sometimes the January Thaw coincides with another local milestone, Glimmer Day, which is the first day in January when you actually notice that the days are getting longer, and there’s a glimmer of hope that winter will actually end.
Ground Hog Day is not a Vermont holiday. We don’t need no fat, stinkin’ rodent from Pennsylvania to tell us, on February 2, that it’s going to be cold for six more weeks.
The next important annual event is Mud Season-As-a-Metaphor-for-Life Day which happens somewhere between mid-February and late April. Here’s how it goes. The day starts off bright and sunny. Your spirits soar. By midday the dirt roads are oily, but your good feelings are buoyed by the plink-plink-plink of maple sap hitting the bucket.
In the afternoon, however, things take a turn for the worse. You return home only to find that the last hill before your house has turned into a sea of gelatinous ooze. Thinking you can bull your way through the ruts, you floor it. With the engine whining at 8000 rpm, wheels spinning like a NASCAR pro, ten feet from the crest, your car starts moving sideways, inch by inch, towards the ditch. Slowly, almost poetically, the world becomes cocked at a 45 degree angle, and you realize that not just your car, but your entire life is now in a ditch. You are utterly, totally beyondered.
Next comes Town Meeting Day, sometimes called Blame-the-New-Guy Day, a high holy day throughout the state.
Springtime arrives. Fishing season opens with ponds still frozen. Baseball season starts with nary a blade of grass in sight. Your relatives from the Flatlands report that the daffodils are up and the dogwoods are in bloom. You can’t go out to play in the snow, because it is gray, granular, and wattled, nature’s version of cellulite. Unidentifiable frozen stuff starts pelting down, and you realize that even a trip to the quick-stop will be life threatening. Then, with a guttural scream that originates just south of your sternum, you proclaim it THIS PLACE SUCKS!! Day.
Not long afterwards comes the first of the spring holidays, The-Day-You-Plant-Peas. No matter that you freeze your fingers and the seeds rot in the ground before sprouting, at least you have the earth in your hands. The second spring holiday is The Spring Fling. After a grueling winter, sixty degrees makes Vermont seem like the Amazon. Euphoric Vermonters don tank tops, shorts, and sandals while gulping beer and throwing frisbies. Things inevitably get out of hand. Just remember the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Next comes The-Day-the-Creemee-Stand-Opens. If your local serves fried food, this is a chance to get onion rings before the grease makes everything taste like a tired clam.
The Solstice begins the High Holy Days when the days are long and the summer endless. These are the days of “damn poor sleddin’. The end of summer begins abruptly of July 4th, when you notice how few weekends are left until Labor Day.
The Vermont Holiday roster does not include Bennington Battle Day, or “DMV Day,” which always occurs on the day you’ve arranged to take off work to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles for that long-postponed photo ID. Alas, the state employees are at home this day, solemnly remembering Vermont’s nano-second of wartime glory.
Summer reaches its zenith on The-Day-the-Sweet-Corn-Ripens. You know when this is, because it’s the day after the corn has been devoured by raccoons. (This is known as “Vermont humor.”)
First Day of School used to be a major holiday, but now that it happens in August, it has lost its holiday status. Whoever came up with the idea to start school before Labor Day should be spitballed to death. Its place has been filled by The-Last-Day-of-Racing-at-Thunder-Road. (The-Red-Sox-Figure-Out-Yet-Another-Way-to-Break-Our-Hearts-Day often occurs around this same time, but that’s really a national holiday. Also, it happens as early as May.)
Leaf peepers pour into the state in late September. We keep our eyes on the hills and say that it’s not a good year for color, because (pick one) a.) The summer was too wet, b.) The summer was too dry, c.) Acid rain, d.) The damn government doesn’t know what it’s doing. But then, just as we despair, we experience The Peak, a brief spasm of color, a death scream for the hardwoods. It brings a gasp, and we all agree, the foliage has never been more beautiful.
The year accelerates to a close. The leaves fall; the temperature drops; the tourists go home. There is a peaceful, but increasingly chilly period between when the greenery disappears and the snow cover arrives. Take a last look at the unadorned rocks and ground of the state, because we are about to enter the Autumnal Holy Days, otherwise known as—Deer Season. Unlike the other holidays, this divides the state neatly into its Chuck and Flatlander halves. The Chucks take gleeful command of the forests. The Flatlanders hunker down, put away jogging shoes, and research travel deals on Travelocity.
You can tell we’re getting towards the end of the year, because we start repeating holidays. THIS PLACE SUCKS!! Day—Part II occurs on a day when you absolutely, positively have to take the Interstate, and a light drizzle has turned it into an iceball. The road crews can’t keep up, and you creep along, amusing yourself by counting the cars off the road. The only solace comes from noting how many of the helpless victims are SUVs with out-of-state plates.
The final holiday coincides with the Winter Solstice. It doesn’t have a name, but it is a festival of light. While the rest of the world storms WalMart and Circuit City in search of DVD players for $19.99, you opt instead for the woodstove, a candle, and conversation. The next few weeks will be grim, to be sure, but if you can hang tough, it’s only a few weeks until Glimmer Day.
Stephen Morris is the author of Beyond Yonder and The King of Vermont. He admits to being occasionally delusional, but he loves the state in which he lives.