The Holidays

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Last week I saw a post on Facebook that bemoaned that a local big box store, “wants me to put up my Christmas tree and eat turkey while wearing my Halloween costume…. Which one is it?!?!” Indeed the merchandisers in stores and online are again going wild in trying to sell stuff for holidays. And while we all want the economy to be robust, perhaps we should take a moment to consider the traditional, and perhaps old-fashioned pace of holidays that were much healthier for us and our families.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These are the Jewish holy days celebrating a new year and reflecting on our lives with a sense of atonement, reconciliation and a new start. (Note: Pumpkin spice has no traditional role in these days.)

Columbus Day. It’s really not about buying mattresses on sale. It celebrates the beginning of immigration to America (before it was called America). These days Latino immigrants use this weekend to celebrate their heritage which has DNA rooted in both the “new world” and the “old world”. It’s a day off from school and work when Long Island tips toward the east as people head out to pick apples and pumpkins. And yes, pumpkin spice is appropriate.

But Christmas decorating is not in order yet. Put down the candy canes and mini-lights. Enjoy the gift of the autumn tastes and colors.

Halloween. A dentist’s nightmare holiday. It’s the only day people actually encourage folks to ring their bell and demand treats. (Usually when random visitors approach our homes they are either trying to sell solar panels or are there to steal our Amazon deliveries!) The roots of this holiday go back to pre-Christian times in Ireland when the early darkness of the autumn days prompted the Druids to try to scare off death. The name Halloween means “All Hallows Eve” since later Christians celebrated All Saint’s Day — remembering that we’re not scared of death, since eternal life awaits. The following day (November 2nd) is All Soul’s Day where we remember those who have died. (And yes, pumpkin spice is still OK for Halloween!)

Thanksgiving. While the aforementioned holidays are celebrated internationally, Thanksgiving Day in America is a special feast that goes unnoticed in other countries. People vacationing abroad on Thanksgiving are often shocked that the country they are visiting doesn’t stop everything to gather around a turkey. But we all know that the day isn’t about a roasted bird, but rather a time to give thanks for all the blessings we’ve been given. (Pumpkin spice? Sure, knock yourself out!)

Yet the prayerful, family-nature of this day is being eroded. Stores now open on Thanksgiving day, preventing their employees from gathering at church, synagogue or the family table. And “black Friday” starts in the late hours of Thanksgiving so in an ironic twist, having thanked God for all we have, we are tempted to go out and buy more stuff. I’m not sure that’s how God wants it to work.

And now for the challenge. It’s not Christmas. Some people start their Christmas traditions before the last turkey leftovers are consumed. By Christmas day they are tired of all things Christmas. The rhythm of a couple of generations ago was much more measured and healthy. People gradually prepared for Christmas as the holiday approached. But the four weeks leading to Christmas (called “Advent”) was a quieter, more reflective time. The Christian churches still observe this special holy time, though many of its members jump ahead to Christmas, bypassing the opportunity to encounter the spirituality of hopeful, joyful waiting. Sensory overload takes an unnoticed toll.

So if you observe Christmas, I invite you to consider pacing things differently this year so you can focus on it’s true meaning: God’s encounter with us. I’m not a Grinch, and I believe Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa have their place in our culture, but they can distract from the spiritual nature of what Christmas really is about. Sure, put up the lights while the weather is warm. But don’t turn them on til Christmas eve — and then let them burn throughout the whole Christmas season (which runs from December 24th through January 12th this year). I always find it odd when on December 26th people stop celebrating. When someone has a baby does the family stop rejoicing the day after? Who does that? So too when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, why would we cease our celebration the day after?

The big box stores will probably have Valentines merchandise for sale in a week or so. But let’s slow down and take things in order. Love will keep!

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