Monday, September 29, 2008

Unlocking The True Meaning of Holidays

So people who are not traveling, searching for apartments, trying to register for classes, or figuring out how to transfer dollars into pounds tell me that it's almost October. Which means the onslaught of holidays is almost upon us. Gah! Did I mention I HAVEN'T FOUND AN APARTMENT YET?!!!

Okay, um, clearly I have a one-track mind at the moment, but, back to the holidays....

As Halloween approaches, and then Thanksgiving and then Christmas, it is easy to get caught up in the commercialization and rampant materialism. It's not unusual for even a non-consumer to want to spend money on decorations, or to rush through the thrift-store searching for something! anything! to get for friends and family. We like holidays because they offer us ritual, connection with people, and something to celebrate. And when the ritual involves buying 20 presents at the mall, we participate in that ritual. Even if it's not necessarily a ritual we would have chose ourselves.

So how does one celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank, or giving in to the rituals of materialism? Develop new rituals.

A couple years ago, I was going through a bad time missing my dad. The King decided I needed cheering up, so he took me to the Day of the Dead festival on Olvera Street. For those of you that aren't aware, Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrating the dead that takes place on November 1st.

We wandered through the street, taking in the free dance shows, and other festivities. Then we walked into an area of the church where a little art gallery was set up. One of the exhibits allowed people to write letters to the dead, and the letters were then placed in a decorated box that was supposedly the mail box for heaven.

You don't have to be religious to see the value in writing a letter to the dead. So, even though I thought it might feel weird, I bit the bullet, and wrote out a long letter to my dad. When I had finished, I was crying, but I felt a release. I put the letter in the mailbox to heaven, and we went out and lit a candle for my dad.

I really felt that year, that I celebrated the true meaning of the Day of the Dead. I didn't buy any of the ubiquitous skeleton figurines. I didn't decorate my house in cobwebs. I didn't dress up. But I participated in the community festivities. I connected with my father. And in the process I made new rituals for myself.

So as the holidays approach, I suggest the same for you. Don't shy away from holidays necessarily. Attend free community festivities. Spend time with friends and family. Host a potluck in your home. Develop new rituals. And try to enjoy things without stressing out.

Because holidays are not, at base, about buying stuff. They are about ritual and togetherness.

What are some of the non-consumeristic holiday rituals you've developed?


Joyce said...

In the last couple of years we have developed a new tradition of the the "Birthday Encomium". That's where we give a speech or write a little essay about what the birthday person means to us, what their admirable qualities are, etc. It's really been a nice way to say the things we ought to say more often, but usually don't. There are still material gifts given, but they've become sort of secondary. The encomium is what everyone looks forward to.

Anonymous said...

We have a fabulous local Halloween custom, the Barebones Theater Halloween Show. It's outside (last year one part included a river paddleboat that actually floated away down the Mississippi), entry fee is "any donation you want", and there are always giant puppets, shadow puppets, a fire show, and live musicians.

Opposite that, there is the Heart of the Beast May Day parade, with human- and bike-powered floats, a neighborhood brass band, the Maya dancers, a step corps, and dragon boats rowing the sun across the lake to waken the Tree of Life.

We get stuck doing the family thing for Christmas and Easter, complete with plastic grass and detailed high-cost gift lists for every member of the extended family. But the two puppet theater events are our family's traditions.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Christmas Day absolutely MUST contain a drunken afternoon game of Trivial Pursuits. The aim is not to win all the wedges, but rather to see who can make my sister giggle uncontrollably for the longest.

Boxing Day always involves a cold muddy hike in the English countryside.

I love Joyce's "Birthday Encomium" idea.

Unknown said...

For those of you that may need to dress up for a party, I have what is usually a fun and different solution. It typically requires no additional purchases and is a more meaningful way to "dress up."

It's simple! Dress up as one of your closest friends. For example, I had a friend that wore the same outfit everyday: a white undershirt and a pair a jeans. He also had certain mannerisms I could imitate. Of course, clear it with your friend and your impersonation should be flattering and not mean, but it can really lead to a lot of laughter and good times. ("Do I really do that a lot? Wow, you must know me pretty well!" etc) This year if I am required to dress up, I plan to go as my boyfriend, who also has a "stock" outfit (boots, jeans, undershirt, button-up shirt, belt) and typical mannerisms. Clearly, I can just borrow some of his clothes which makes the costume even more accurate! And when I imitate him he imitates me right back at me! One of these days I want to be my boyfriend when he was in high school (I did not know him then) because he has an old h.s. jersey in his closet I really want to bust out...

Sam said...

On almost all holidays, my husband and I stay home and play networked video games from the 80s or some open source ones in cooperative mode against an AI. We have food cooking in a crockpot so we don't starve and turn off the phone. Its our perfect little (if a bit anti-social) ritual.

When I first heard of day of the dead (I think by reading about Frida Kahlo as she perfected a day of the dead bread recipe), I thought it was a really weird ritual. But I thought about it and found that it was such a wonderful way to remember the dead. In such a positive way.

Anonymous said...

Drunk or not, I'd still lose to my husband in a game of Trivia Pursuit.

Christmas Eve has evolved to a munchie day for us. No crazy meal, just relaxed baking and snacks throughout the day.

We are definitely rethinking how we do holidays all around this year. Children make you rethink your choices.

Anonymous said...

I like that you wrote a letter to your dad, and that the act of doing so perhaps created a ritual of connecting with him for times to come.

I write my holiday letter the morning of thanksgiving, we go to a friends house for dinner so the day for me starts always with being grateful that I am not cooking - ha! Yet sets the tone to reflect on the year and be aware of all of it's blessings.

It's the pause and the decisions we make in that pause that has anything we want in our lives shift

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Buy Steroids said...

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Anonymous said...

Christmas Day afternoon game at all trivial business must be an alcoholic. Wedges did not win the all-purpose but to see my sister for the longest possible laugh uncontrollably.

Boxing Day is always the English countryside, including an increase in the cold mud.

Guided walking holidays

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