This time of year I love looking back through time, as we begin looking forward to the New Year. I find myself drawn, again and again into the origins of things, – Why we use a Yule log, and “deck the halls with boughs of holly…” I’m intrigued by the way people all over the world celebrate around the loss of light and its quiet return at the winter solstice. Whatever your tradition or trajectory, winter brings with it a time of consideration, of death and renewal that is as old as the urge to look for the light.
As I was looking up the word Holiday it was interesting to find that the word originated from the old English word, hāligdæg hālig “holy” + dæg “day.” According to Wikipedia, it referred only to “special religious days.” It went on to say that in modern use, it means “any special day of rest or relaxation, as opposed to normal days away from work or school.”
For a lot of people though, the holidays seem to be anything but relaxing or restful. There is constant pressure to buy, do, and be that can rob us of exactly those things they are meant to bestow. Living in an evolving multi-culture, we are somehow left to find our way through the labyrinth of tinsel and toys, to an undefined and uncertain destination, sometimes without a star to guide us.
I was raised in a traditional Christian home, and thought I was carrying on that tradition, passing it along to my own kids. Instead what they inherited was something foreign, yet familiar, – the desire to discover for themselves those things that will bring authentic peace and joy.
Meanwhile, the catalogs have been stacking up, the decorations are coming out, and the invitations are coming in. Some of it is fun, some of it is overwhelming, and some of it is on the, “Here we go again,” list. Most of us don’t have time to even consider whether or not it makes sense, or what more satisfying alternatives might look like.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you don’t especially enjoy the pressure of the holiday, you don’t have to shoulder it. There are some things that we really do have to do. Sleep, eat, drink, pay taxes and die. (Not necessarily in that order,) but the rest is really a matter of choice. If you don’t love racking up a few thousand dollars on gifts on items no one wants or needs, don’t do it. If you don’t enjoy dragging a tree in from outside or out of the closet, putting it up and putting it all away again, skip it. If you enjoy going to the office party armed with “a gift under twenty dollars,” do it. But really, you don’t have to. The world will not stop turning if you don’t bake twelve dozen cookies. Bob will be no worse off for not having the mug with the kitten on it.
You may find that there are things you really would enjoy taking part in that you had never considered before, or places you might send your money that would change someone’s life for the better. On the other hand, you might just like to take your tired self to the beach, walk away from the crèche, the menorah, or the phases of the moon, and sip a margarita in the sun.
The way we choose to be renewed should bring the real gifts of the season, Love, Joy and Peace. Since we can only give what we have, I wish those things for you this holiday season, and for all of us.