“Get ready for fun,” I inform my husband and our dog. “It’s the holy-daze!”
I pronounce “holidays” with a long O and a silly Z, because I am desperately trying to be merry. Every December, we wish we had kids, grandkids—even a nearby sibling or two would do. In their absence, I do exactly what I know not to do: try too hard to infuse a little joy. My cynical Jewish husband gives a wry grin and turns on a South Park Christmas special to cut the sweetness. The dog bounces at my tone of voice, but any day is a holiday if there are treats and cuddles.
Which is not entirely wrong.
Nonetheless, I make my festive announcement. And then I hear myself. Holy days. What they were supposed to be in the first place. And with that, everything clicks into place.
We do not need matching sweaters or a photo in front of the tree. We do not need a hasty rewrite to insert kids at this late date. Nor do we need an old-fashioned sleigh ride or a plate of cookies baked by my dead grandmother, who hated anything to do with the kitchen. We only need a little quiet, time together away from the usual press of everyday life. Time to breathe, and think about what matters.
Sacred time is, by definition, set off from the mundane. I picture one of those tall wrought iron fences that surround old monasteries, keeping the secular world at bay. Worries cannot enter here, nor can shallow desires. Petty carping is banned, along with cynicism (sorry, sweetheart) and self-pity. I say the phrase again, under my breath, and all those years of Catholicism return in a rush, and I know exactly what I want these days to be. Not churched, but holy in its first sense, quiet as that manger before the wise guys showed up.
Quiet does not preclude fun. It just relaxes the need for it.
One year, for example, after our ritual viewing of a Christmas movie so stupid I am ashamed to name it, we happened upon a Britbox show in which red-cheeked Brits piled onto a train and spent the evening chugging from one town to the next, peering out the window at gorgeous light displays. Nothing. Else. Happened. We watched the guy stoke the engine. We admired the lights. The train chugged on. At first I felt a little restless, wondering which of us was going to lose patience first and switch the channel. But by the time the journey ended, we were sad to have it over. We had detoxed. No thrills, no sensationalism, nothing trendy or high-tech or novel or edgy or controversial.
Holiness is like that. Unchanging, peaceful, untouched by tweets and headlines. You can sink into it and remember that nobody is measuring your fun. Nobody cares how cute your sweater is. Nobody even minds that you are a little lonely, with no toddler to rip open your presents and no crazy relatives to groan over later.
Stars still burn; candles still get lit.
In enacting time-honored rituals, groups sometimes try a little too hard—especially nowadays, when we live so far apart that community itself is an artificial construct. Add commerce to the equation, and we are well and truly screwed. Now there are norms to live up to, prescribed standards for décor, food, gifts, music, experience. Ideal ways of looking and behaving have been drummed into us. We are constantly reminded that particular types of interaction define the experience.
Let all that go, enter the holiness, and be dazed.
Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.