The Bar at the End of the World

Green Beer and Israelites

I’m on my third beer, this one is green.

It’s the local specialty. So local, in fact, that it’s named after the bar I’m sitting in. ‘Dublin,’ the label proudly reads. Made by Beagle, the brand I’ve been drinking since I’ve been here. Dublin is the only place in town where you can find other people this time of night, any day of the week.

It’s my 6th day in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego: a dockside town that is ostensibly the southernmost city in the world (not counting a few spare ports and forts) and the launchpad for an array of Antarctic tours.

It also happens to be achingly beautiful.

I’m hanging out with a Swedish girl from Australia who I met on one of the handful of buses I took to get down this far south, and we’re discussing Argentina, the holidays, the relative size of male genitalia from one culture to the next, and all the other things that two bored 20-somethings in an Irish pub at the end of the world will tend to discuss.

The theme of the night, though, is Christmas. In most countries, it would seem, Christmas is celebrated on the night of the 24th, with all the fanfare and festivities taking place that night. In Argentina, the entire family stays up until midnight to have a Christmas feast and open presents at the very beginning of the 25th of December.

I, being from the US, am accustomed to doing things differently, but I’m also horribly outnumbered at the hostel where I’m staying. Midnight it is!

As we’re having this discussion, a girl I don’t see approach sits down in the seat across from me and introduces herself.

She’s pretty, and it seems she’s from Israel and is touring the world after having just finished her two-year, state-required stint in the military.

After 10 minutes or so, she heads back over to the other side of the bar, saying she’s going to let her friends know where she went and that she’ll be back. I take the opportunity to ruminate on the irony of the situation: my conversation about Christmas and the varying ways different cultures celebrate it taking place at the end of the world being interrupted by a member of one of the few groups of people that doesn’t celebrate it at all.

Such is life in Ushuaia.

A Day Like Any Other

Holidays and I have an interesting relationship.

On one hand, I enjoy the fanfare and seeing my family and exchanging gifts and having an excuse to take part in corny traditions and everything else that comes with the territory.

On the other, I work so hard to make every day into something worth celebrating that I honestly find myself forgetting about holidays. This habit has gotten even more pronounced since I started traveling, as holidays are different all over the world, with different people celebrating different things for different reasons and in different ways.

When they are all laid out like that, it’s hard not to look at your own ‘special day’ and think, “Well, okay, so what makes this so special? If almost every day is a holiday somewhere, what’s even the point? It’s not a party if it happens every night!”

I recall writing an anti-Thanksgiving article for the school newspaper back in high school, the premise being that not only is it a holiday laced with uncomfortable historical baggage, but it also contributes to the nation’s growing waistline, encourages consumerism on all levels, and forces people to go hang out with their family in an uncomfortably fake setting. Take a deep breath, I said, that’s what artificial sentimentality smells like.

A Day Unlike Any Other

As the years flowed by, I loosened my tight opinions on the subject of holidays a bit, but I couldn’t shake my back-of-the-mind thoughts that the whole concept was just wrong.

Even after last year’s adventures, when my girlfriend came to Missouri to celebrate Christmas with my family, followed by a wild and crazy night of clubbing for New Year, I was pretty sure that I was just falling for the hype.

This last Thanksgiving though, was different.

Picture this: a dozen people, all from different countries, sitting around a great big table in a fancy restaurant in Buenos Aires (hilariously named ‘Kansas’). Expensive versions of traditional US Thanksgiving foods are brought around to the diners, most of whom have never heard of stuffing, several that had rarely, if ever, eaten turkey, and one that had never had broccoli.

But everyone — no matter what country they were from or what they thought (if anything) about the holiday itself — went around the table and shared what they were thankful for. Everyone laughed and told stories and shared memories. Everyone, regardless of the historical reasons for the celebration or price of turkey-laden party napkins selling like hotcakes in the States, or my personal hesitancy to embrace something that I’ve always been wary of, hugged and clinked glasses of wine and had a really good time.

I could see why, despite all the philosophical differences I may have with the events, people love holidays.

And this is why I’m looking forward to Christmas, which will be celebrated tonight, the 24th, and tomorrow, because holidays are what you make of them, and how the media and greeting card companies see it just doesn’t matter.

The only tradition that needs to be adhered to is that you have a good time. Stir in family and friends as appropriate, decorate with delicious foods and unique experiences, and bam, you’ve got yourself a holiday worth celebrating every day of the year.

Update: November 25, 2016

I’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving 2016 by spending the day reading, cooking some delicious food for myself, and updating this website. So while I agree with the overall sentiment expressed here, I would add that holidays needn’t be social to be enjoyable. It’s entirely possible to have a splendid time in isolation, so long as you don’t feel compelled to do it in any particular way.