Holidays or Holy-days?
When Labor Day has passed, it seems the rest of the year blazes by on a dead run for me.
Halloween—All Hallows Eve—frivolity, death, costumes, too much candy.
Then it’s Veterans Day—solemnity, wars, honor, too little notice paid.
Then Thanksgiving—family, travel, too much food and not enough thankfulness for some of us.
Then Christmas with its message of hope and salvation mixed in with parties and friends and more food, followed by New Year’s with its message of diet and exercise and getting organized (heard that before!), and Epiphany when the Wise Men finally arrive at the Manger—and the boxes of decorations are shoved back into the closet for another year.
My mother’s recent death has stopped the clock in some ways for me. In cleaning out the apartment where she spent the last 20 years of her life, I found saved Christmas cards and Valentine’s, her collection of Nativity sets that spread into every room of the apartment, and her collection of seasonal earrings and pins. All these things have been both joy and a real pain in the nether regions. So much!
So many memories for her, and so many stories that I did not share. Evaluating what to keep, what to pass on to others. The past, present and future crashing into each other with every box packed, every item given away.
Holidays are like that. Each brings with it memories of previous celebrations—who was there and who is now missing.
Fun times shared with family and friends. Holidays that did not live up to the promise of happiness and sharing that our fantasies create.
This year with both of my parents gone, I am remembering a Thanksgiving spent in my apartment alone, sick with the flu and not a trace of turkey to be found. I could easily understand why no one wanted the flu chick to come around, and the turkey tasted just as good the next week when I could go to my parents’ home.
I also remember that my father often volunteered to work holiday shifts at the hospital so that others who had children at home could be with them. Mom and I would go to the hospital cafeteria to have turkey and all the trimmings with Dad on his lunch or dinner break. And that felt like a holiday—a holy-day—because our family could help others have time to celebrate, and we were together. My father was willing to put others first and that reminded me of what was really important.
A thoughtful couple in our parish told me recently that they had decided this year to forego gifts for each other and to devote more money to the feeding and clothing of those in need through our church activities. The holidays for them are becoming holy-days. Like other churches, we get many calls from people in need—more calls and more need than we have money. Holidays can often be hollow-days when your feast comes out of the one can of beans you have left in the cabinet.
We more openly talk about the needs of “the poor,” the “less fortunate” when Thanksgiving rolls around, but people are hungry and naked all year long. Children need love and care and medicine all year round. Families are separated by war and prison and illness all year round.
Maybe we should start our holy-days now and resolve to give less attention to holidays. Maybe we can offer a visit or a shared meal with someone who is lonely or isolated, and not wait for a noisy party to offer friendship. Maybe we can deck our halls with a little less and furnish the tables of others with more necessities.
Maybe we can return to real holy-days. Maybe we can.