Happy Holistic Winter Holidays
In the shopping frenzy that has become the holidays, I seem to have misplaced my holiday spirit. This fall’s constant stream of bad news has only made it harder to find. Can you help me find my holiday spirit?
Torpid Tiny Tim
The snow is falling, the people are shopping, the traffic is mounting, the stress is building. It makes you stop and wonder, “What are we celebrating, anyway?” Quite a lot, it turns out:
We celebrate winter. Winter is nature’s dormant period, without which we wouldn’t have the elation of Spring, the torrid passion of Summer, and the ripe fullness of Autumn. It’s a package deal, so we might as well enjoy the delights that winter can bring. For example, winter’s first snowflakes are among the most delightful. I know of no more powerful meditation on the miracle of winter than W.A. Bentley’s classic photographic study, Snow Crystals (Dover Publications). For almost half a century, Bentley caught and photographed thousands of snowflakes in his workshop in Jericho, Vermont (it’s official: no two crystals are alike!). These wonders of nature are winter’s mandalas, well worth the cold. Next time they fly in your face, give ‘em a taste.
We celebrate light, and its return. December 21st this year marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and with it the longest night of the year and the gradual return of light to our skies. Celebrating light and its return is as old as civilization, and remains a major holiday on the Pagan calendar. Pagan High Priestess Selena Fox at www.circlesanctuary.org recommends to “Place holly, ivy, evergreen boughs, and pine cones around your home, especially in areas where socializing takes place. Hang a sprig of mistletoe above a major threshold and leave it there until next Yule as a charm for good luck throughout the year. Have family/household members join together to make or purchase an evergreen wreath. Include holiday herbs in it and then place it on your front door to symbolize the continuity of life and the wheel of the year.” In a similar vein, my multi-ethnic family celebrates the Scandinavian winter holiday of St. Lucia. We parade by candlelight through our darkened home, singing the eponymous Italian melody with Norwegian lyrics, and celebrate the renewing grace of light. We will also celebrate Hanukkah, the “festival of light,” which begins this year on December 26th, by lighting our menorah, giving our blessings, and singing the family Hanukkah song.
We celebrate birth. December 25th of course is the date we observe for the birth of Christ. Whether or not you believe he is the son of God or whether you see him as a rabbi, reformer, or rabble-rouser, it takes a remarkable person to preach such radically compassionate messages as “You have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye,’..but I tell you, love your enemy.” (Matthew 5). I believe that if Christ were among us today, he would be appalled at the Christmas-Industrial Complex that has profited from his nativity. This Christmas, I dare you all to think of someone you hate, and sincerely offer him or her your good wishes. Now if that were our holiday tradition instead of heading for the mall, wouldn’t there be a whole lot more cheer?
We celebrate abundance, and sweet things. Here are two ways to celebrate abundance. One is to celebrate freedom from scarcity, by taking time to relish the true value of what we have, whether it is an abundance of health, of food, or of community. In doing do, we might realize that what we have is just fabulous, and that we don’t really need more of anything. This time of year, nothing symbolizes the pleasures of abundance more than sweet things. For an easy-to-prepare holiday sweet that is gentle on your body and on the planet, I recommend Health Chef Alex’s vegan Coconut Date Rolls (see www.healthychefalex.com): Take 2 cups fresh pitted dates and pulse them in a food processor 15-20 times. Add them to a mixing bowl and stir in 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut. Spoon out 2 tablespoons at a time, roll into log shapes with your hands, and serve (It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week).
The second way to is to celebrate our freedom from overabundance, a sweet freedom that some Americans haven’t tasted in years. Overabundance might make some of us feel safer, but in the long run it can leave us spiritually starved. A great remedy for holiday overabundance is to give to those suffering from scarcity. For example, massage therapist Theresa Ochenkoski volunteers at her local women’s shelter as her way of giving. I recommend the website www.justgive.org for practical ideas on how to giving to those in need, so you too can experience the lightness of giving.
Lastly, we celebrate community. If a vision of hell is of people seated around a plentiful banquet table, starving and miserable, with their arms locked straight so they can’t feed themselves, then a vision of a heaven is of the same predicament but where people’s bellies full and there is joy and laughter, for they are feeding one another. Sharing gives communities life, and as the year comes to a close, communities present us with opportunities to celebrate the acts of giving and receiving. Community and sharing feature strongly in the African-American celebration of Kwanzaa, which takes place from December 26th to January 1st. It’s principles include Umoja or Unity, Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics. Why not take part in a celebration your community is putting on this holiday season?
I don’t want to give you the impression that the end of the year has to be non-stop gaiety. As cardiologist and integrative MD Harvey Zarren reminds us, “Being aware of grieving is always important. Celebration is first in people’s mind but for many, grieving takes precedence. I honor the grieving, support the discomfort and ask people to remember what was special about those missing.” At the same, however, “it is important to remember the celebration and importance of joy! We need to practice the experience of celebration more!”
Well put. Bring on the Figgy Pudding!
First published in Boston Natural Awakenings magazine's December 2005 "Ask Karlo" column.