The Jewish High Holidays are a lot of work for women. It is probably the same for all religions, but my only direct experience is with the Jewish holidays. Women shoulder the brunt of the holiday experience, diligently carving lasting memories into their children's psyches about what a holiday represents and the importance of certain days and times of year. Traditions passed down from one generation to the next, from the Old Country to the New World, from mother to daughter, are weaved heavily through each and every Jewish holiday on the calendar. Each holiday tied inextricably to specific melodies, foods and behaviors. These special family traditions and expectations are both a blessing and a burden for Jewish women, who while lovingly connected to their cultural heritage are also deeply engrossed in a full secular life of work, exercise, relationships and reality TV.
As this New Year's set of Jewish holiday obligations descend on the Jewish women of 2011 (5772 on the Jewish calendar), all hell is breaking loose. Look inside their homes and you will surely find these women frantically making sure the kids' shoes, dresses and jackets still fit since the last "simcha" or celebration requiring appropriate holiday attire. They are setting their tables with their finest linens and polishing their grandmother's silver. They are making arrangements for someone else to attend their office meetings while they go to services and they are very busy shopping and cooking all those special dishes.
For Jewish women, this time of year means baking the special family dessert (often an apple or honey cake to encourage a sweet New Year), cooking Aunt Sadie's special beef brisket and potato, pulling out the sweet noodle pudding (kugel) recipe and making room arrangements to entertain at least double the amount of people for dinner than on any other night.
Tradition has Jewish families inviting over friends or acquaintances that may have nowhere to go for a holiday meal. Often, people are invited at the last minute and the women are left to find one more matching soup bowl full of matzah balls. The holidays are supposed to be a time for introspection and reflection, a time to look ahead toward a new year filled with hope and dreams of joy and good fortune but rather than reposing, most women are busy figuring out how early can they cut the apples before they turn brown, what bowl to put the honey in and how to keep a tipsy uncle away from the good scotch.
Women look for ways to create a holiday experience that feels reminiscent of their original family holiday. A certain recipe, song or activity will evoke memories and stories that are told and retold to the next generation. The recreation of the family celebration is what makes most of the additional work worthwhile.
The extra effort of a holiday gathering can be daunting coupled with the emotional charge often attached to important family moments. But women have chosen to be the keepers of the flame of tradition for generation upon generation. While the burden is great, the blessings and joy of the cultural connection to ones' roots and the pride of heritage keep Jewish women, and I assume women from all cultures, willing to continue to bring the family together to celebrate and remember, year after year.