Sundays are Spirituality Day here at Taking it to the Streets
Driving home from the movies last night, my friend and I were admiring the Christmas lights that have sprung up in my town like daffodils in the spring. Festive, cheerful, sentimental (bringing back such fond memories of childhood) they are a harbinger of the coming winter holidays – for many of us, Christmas.
I’ve noticed how many religious traditions have holidays at this time of year that celebrate brining in the light. Which, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, makes a lot of sense as we move inexorably towards Winter Solstice, this longest night of the year.
We bring in the light. We reassure ourselves that really, don’t worry about it, the Sun will return! (and interestingly, Christians talk about the birth of the S-O-N, as we all re-welcome the rebirth of the S-U-N).
For me, having Christmas trees is a similar remembrance – the fecundity of the earth is not GONE, it’s just sleeping.
I so enjoy these aspects of “the holidays” and enjoy the music (well, at first – after the one hundredth time I hear “The First Noel” it DOES grate…). The sense of festivity, of conviviality, of warmth – all those beckon me in, invitingly.
What I don’t enjoy is the way our desire to love and please one another – to connect, to see and be seen – has been perverted into a frenzy of often mindless materialism. I am particularly put off by “Black Friday” and the attendant hysteria around getting deals.
When my friend Becky died after a 111 day bout of cancer, at the age of 46, I very viscerally got that the race between time and money is truly a no-contest race – time trumps money every time. Because, despite gloomy economists and a sagging economy, I will tell you that you CAN get more money. Time? not so much.
That’s why time is one of my two favorite gifts to both give and receive (for the other see the third bullet point below). What do I want? Quality time with people I love. The chance to laugh and love and talk and sing. Just that. Maybe a drawing from the wee children in my life, or a poem. In fact – you can write me a poem too – that would be delightful.
Oh, I’m not a curmudgeon (at least not on this score). I am a believer in buying “stuff” for little kids (though I don’t do it at Christmas when they gorge themselves on stuff, preferring to send surprise gifts throughout the year).
Here’s my list of things to consider in celebrating this season:
- Create memorable holiday traditions with your family and friends and focus on the experience. My family decorated our tree on Christmas Eve when I was a kid and we always had walnuts and tangerines while doing so – just putting those out at this time of the year brings me a flood of happy memories.
- Consider doing donations as gifts. My wonderful friends and neighbors, Pete and Julie, do that with their adult siblings – all band together and do a group donation to a favorite charity.
- Some charities make it easy to be specific – I love Heifer, International where you can pick a specific animal. My dad grew up on a farm – we have given him a cow for Father’s Day or his birthday – honoring him, but changing the lives of other people.
- If you’re not a fan of what you consider to be “handouts” then invest in someone’s dreams on behalf of your loved one with an interest paying loan to Kiva (“Change a life for $25”) or Kickstarter (“Fund and follow creativity”).
- Consider an outing to a cultural place together – and then go out for hot chocolate afterwards to discuss your adventure. Museums, plays – if you are in or near a big city the possibilities are endless – but I bet you have such choices wherever you live.
- Or, celebrate winter (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere) by being IN it – go ice skating, sledding, take a walk in the woods, sit outside by a firepit – be with those you love in the bracing outdoors (and then that hot chocolate or hot toddy will be especially welcomed!)
- Cook together. Instead of stressing on the performance art of pulling off a feast – or the expense of catering one – invite your friends to make a cozy winter brunch or simple dinner – the laughter and happy talk as you prepare the food will infuse it with even more love.
- Do something crafty together. Similarly, decorating can feel like an Olympic competition – but it doesn’t have to. How about having a “let’s make our holiday decor party” with your women friends (I’m just not picturing guys enjoying this – but if they do, invite ’em!)
- For many of us, this is still a spiritual or religious holiday. Whatever tradition you celebrate – Diwali a little while ago, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa – “remember the reason for the season” and find ways to deepen your spiritual connection to God as you understand God.
- Finally, find a way to be generous to those in need. One of the happiest Christmas’s I have spent was one in my twenties when I baked cookies for the firemen in the firehouse down the street and then went and volunteered to help at a dinner that the local Catholic Church put on for the homeless and those in need on Christmas Day. While I was serving turkey and mashed potatoes, a lady, probably in her 40s, with Down’s syndrome came up to me squealing “Look! I got a watch! I got a Mickey Mouse watch!” – her exultation with her gift totally made my day and all these years later still makes me smile.
My plans, still unfolding, contain many elements of what I’ve listed above. How about you? In what ways do you find deep meaning in this season? Have you found a way to keep it both simple and meaningful? As always, I’d really like to know!