As I sit here writing, December is fast approaching once again, and with its arrival the dreaded “holidays” will once again encroach upon my equilibrium. I really don’t like the Christmas season. Every year I like it less and less. Every year it seems to get more commercial and artificial and greedy. It’s not a celebration I want to make part of my life, but it’s almost impossible for me not to do so. I don’t want to disappoint my children and grandchildren. I don’t want to seem curmudgeonly to my friends. I know it’s a religious celebration for some folks, and I want to honor that. I have no fault with the religious holiday. That’s just not what has been at the forefront of my family’s experience with the 21st century American expression of the holiday. Too often the traditional American (i.e. commercialized) version of the holiday has become a chance to party, to give and get gifts, to spend money, to support the retail economy. We’ve even made a quasi-holiday out of shopping, with Black Friday bringing the expectation that we’ll all march out and do our bit to kick off the season of spending. Meh. Pretty depressing. Come January, I just breathe a sigh of relief that it’s over!
Most of us have expressed frustration with the commercialism of the Christmas season, but few of us have the know-how and courage to change it without upsetting family and friends. Some years ago I attended a workshop based on the book entitled Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season. The book was accompanied by a guide that led participants in finding ways to combat the commercialism of the season and make their holidays more joyful and stress-free. The workshop also offers tips on making changes to your celebrations, and getting your family’s buy-in to changing traditions.
I took the workshop to heart, and did make some changes to my celebrations, for the better of all, I think. I even became a workshop leader myself, and offered the workshop for churches and other interested groups.
Over the years since then, however, I continue to drift further and further away from any version of the holiday. I’d be perfectly happy just ignoring the whole thing! It feels like something different altogether is called for. I need to discover what that is.
Celebrating is something that is important for us. Celebrations are the exclamation point on our lives, providing spice and sparkle to our everyday existence. Celebrations give us the opportunity to step out of our routine, and connect with family and friends. They allow us to acknowledge our accomplishments; to reconnect with nature; to remember the ideals and values that define us; to show our children what we consider worth honoring. Celebrations are healing to our hearts and invigorating to our spirits—or they should be.
Doesn’t it make sense then that our celebrations should be as unique as we are? How should we celebrate? What should we celebrate?
I think the words of rabbi, philosopher and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel express it quite well: “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle.... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions.
There’s a thought worthy of consideration: “giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.” When you consider celebration in that light, you see that you can celebrate alone just as well as with others. What is important is to be clear just what it is you are celebrating. Your celebration is an action on your part to show honor, appreciation, or reverence.
I don’t think that eating a big meal and then watching a football game could be called a celebration. Those things might occur along with the celebration, but they are not, in themselves, a celebration. I don’t think that going to a loud New Year’s Eve party and getting tipsy can be a celebration either. At least, not for me. For myself, I prefer to celebrate the arrival of a new year and the departure of the old in solitude and contemplation. It feels more like a celebration to me that way.
It’s such a simple thought—you consider what it is you wish to honor, and then create a celebration around that thing. Make every aspect of your celebration directly represent what you choose to honor. Doing that makes it easier for you to eliminate those parts of your celebrations that don’t fit anymore. Make those elements you decide to keep more intentional. Be sure that those taking part, especially the children, understand the purpose of the celebration. Let your celebrations teach them about the truly important things in life.
There are many opportunities to celebrate in our lives, dear readers. We should avail ourselves of every one of them! But we should also make of them a true celebration. If it is worth celebrating, it is worth putting in time, effort and thought to create a worthy celebration.