A common feeling for many of us, at least at some point in our lives, is a disappointment or dissatisfaction with the holidays. The time leading up to them, the anticipation of the actual days, how the time might be spent, and thinking about who we will or won’t spend time with, can be a stressful period; equally so can be the aftermath of reviewing how we actually spent the days. Sometimes we forget or we don’t focus on the reality that we have the power to change the holidays for the better. We have the capacity to make the time spent more of what we really want deep inside. This happens when we use our courage to initiate change. When I say holy, I mean what we consider sacred. The word sacred indicates that which is set apart for the worship or service of deity, deity meaning divinity. So simply put, how do we utilize our holidays to create a sense of celebrating and serving the divine, remembering how we are connected to the divine? In putting aside the usual mundane tasks, we might pause to instill a feeling of sacredness in the days. Even amidst what might have become traditional secular activities, we can make space for sensing sacredness. It does not require that we worship a specific deity. We simply need to recognize what we consider divine. In this recognition we may offer attention to it, feeling appreciation for any divinity that causes us to feel peaceful or hopeful inside.
We can create this space because ultimately it is our intention behind our actions that most cultivates the feeling of the experience. So, if I attend a family gathering with anger and disappointment in my heart, it may feel impossible to sense sacredness in the time together. If I am rotely buying gifts for everyone, because it is what everyone else is doing, even if it feels no longer appropriate or meaningful, there is a sense of emptiness delivered and received in the gift giving. If I am going places and spending time with people, including family, whom I do not truly want to be in the company of, I am bringing a resistance or resentment with me in my presence. We can look for the ways in which we are a part of losing the sacredness of the day, blocking the possibility for any connection with the divinity in the experience in which we choose to engage. It is in these findings that our opportunity for change exists.
Perhaps this is not the year that we decide we can make big leaps of change, for whatever reason. For instance, I may no longer want to participate in gift giving but am not ready to stop the tradition all together. But I can decide that I will choose gifts with meaning behind them. I can spend less, buy less, or ask for no gifts if I truly want to stop the momentum of the empty-feeling process. If or when I give the gift, I can offer it mindfully, giving it with a loving heart, watching while the gift is unwrapped and warmly receiving the thank you. If I want to stop cooking a large meal, I can ask for help so I do not feel so burdened in the work. Or I can tone down the scale of the process. Or I can boldly announce that this will be the last year I will cook (and follow through), sending off the experience in gratitude knowing I am done with this tradition - even if only for one year, just to see how it feels. Because if we think we don’t want to do some of these traditional or habitual things, we will not really know until we do not do them, experiencing something else. Experimenting with new traditions is a way to find out what might bring meaning and sacredness into the days.
Our sense of sacredness or specialness, of communing with the divine, happens through our hearts. If our hearts are resisting what we are partaking in, holding angry, resentful, aggressive, or any other painful feelings, how can we possibly sense any divinity? Celebrating the divine means we look for, recognize and enjoy the supremely good in us, seek it relentlessly, and offer it even in the most difficult of times. If we are not ready to courageously search inwardly and outwardly for those qualities, then perhaps settling for the truth can be a first step. The truth of what we are doing, how we are feeling, and what we want holds immense power. In looking for that truth, in asking those sometimes-difficult questions of one another, and of ourselves, we open the door to the possibility of discovering what is in our hearts. What is in out hearts can lead us to how we may feel more healed, more fulfilled, and more accepting. If we cannot find any joy or satisfaction with those with whom we are choosing to gather, how is this a sacred act? Who or what, exactly, is this serving? How will outdated, unhappy relationships, or dishonest interactions bring us more towards a sense of divinity? How will doing things we don’t really want to do, in our hearts, bring any joy to the experience? What might really help us to recognize the divine in each and every one of us?
These are some questions to ponder. I believe we all have the capacity to put the holy back in the holidays. Sometimes it takes more courage than we have at this point in time. But allowing ourselves to imagine doing it differently, taking small steps towards creating a feeling of sacredness in the holiday, and finding in our hearts what we truly want of these special days, can be the change that starts new and meaningful traditions; ones that we peacefully anticipate and truly enjoy.
Sometimes it is as simple as pausing and looking up to the sky, saying words of gratitude for the things we take for granted in our lives, like the stars in the night sky or the warmth of the sun. These simple moments of inner attention and connection to the fullness of the present moment opens a communion with the divine that many of us seek.
Feel free to share what makes a holiday feel sacred for you…