If it is December, then it is the hunting season for gifts. No Hollywood settings, no happy ending stories over the fiery winter background. Just nerves, fear that “you can not catch anything” and guilt that “you woke up too late.” Does that mean the “holiday spirit”? That’s what we’ve been waiting for a year?
I’ve seen this movie before. It is presented before holidays, especially near winter holidays. It starts with promotion of sales and continues with the buyers’ pursuit of shopping and competing up with others. Then the momentum is achieved and it goes on based on the principle of “Let’s buy this thing too! Just in case!”
The climax happens on Christmas Eve. Then the final assault takes place and the last shelf is emptied. Then, suspense! Until December 26, when the supermarkets open again. The epilogue is in the form of admissions for intestinal occlusions and food disposal.
If you are not a shop owner, you may agree that today’s holidays are no longer celebrations. They are more of a merchants’ heaven than finding of ourselves or connecting with the tranquility of old.
But the complicated thing is that you can not even escape this routine. No matter how brave you are, you can not hide in a cave and come out after it’s over. What would you tell your friends, colleagues at work or your acquaintances about what you have done during “holidays”?
So, every year, you have the same routine and you hope to get different results. Finally, you come to blame “those who invented the feasts” and ask yourself what the “spirit of holidays” is all about. I mean, can we talk about that? What does it mean? Because you do not understand it anyway!
Winter is a season of regeneration
Winter is a season that the old ones, in accordance with the rhythm of nature, used for resting of the year’s struggle. It was a period of softness, mugs of wine with spices, reading books and telling stories near the fire!
In this context, with winters as in movies and with time for meditation, surely the people of other times made various correlations between astronomical phenomena and those related to the life of nature.
After the moment of the winter solstice, the day begins to increase, and the night decreases its duration. That is why some cultures put this astronomical event in connection with the victory of light over darkness, good over evil or life over death.
Therefore, it was normal for these natural phenomena to be marked by the ancient people in a particular way. They always implied a strong emotional connection, being bound to the hope of a new beginning, of another chance. So, the spirit of holidays, for the people of old, was as real as possible and was fully lived.
Holidays have a symbolic function
The ancient ones believed that the world as we perceive it is not what it seems. Only in this way they could give meaning to life and saw it as a continuous preparation, for a different existence.
Whether they perceived or succeeded in demonstrating the reality of another world, they tried to devise certain ways of establishing connections between these two plans of existence.
That’s why they used symbols. It was a natural choice, because, besides the ability to gather energies and people around it, the symbol is also meant to link two notions from different realities.
And some of these symbols also embraced the shape of the feast days, which, in most religious traditions, are dedicated to spiritual growth.
When we talk about holidays, the first thing that comes to mind is physical rest. But from accentuating prayer, practicing rituals, or reading sacred texts, we deduce that the feast is firstly established for the soul and then for the flesh.
Its main purpose is the communion with Divinity, the return to origins, finding the purity that many of us lose throughout our lives. It is, after all, about finding the joy of living.
Holidays are times of joy
Therefore, holidays are, above all, a manifestation of joy, and this can not exist in solitude. So, it is necessary for the relationships with our relatives to be reestablished and new ones made. It is one of the reasons why the winter holidays are dedicated to the family. In the past, at this time of the year, there was always time for this networking. There was little work to be done, and everyone gathered at home. Then, everyone could meet with everyone.
In the village of my grandparents, at this time of year, there were traces of footprints on the snow. They led from one gate to another. Outside these paths, the snow was untouched. Relatives and neighbors, all were visiting each other in the serenity of winter and talking about how the things were. There was peace in nature and in souls.
It seemed to be a continuous celebration, because people had time for themselves and for others.
Holiday does not mean abandoning daily duties
However, we should not imagine the religious feast as a time of decadence. Although, a particular emphasis is placed on the spiritual side and insisting upon physical rest, the feast does not imply total abandonment of duties.
Christ was very trenchant with the Jews of His time who observed the Sabbath to the extreme: “And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and said unto the people: «There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.» The Lord then answered him, and said: «Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?» (The Gospel according to Luke, chapter 13, verses 14-15)
Similarly, the Old Testament expression “God rested” after the creation of the world (Genesis, chapter 2, verse 2) must also be interpreted in a similar manner. God does not need rest, so, obviously, this phrase was understood by theologians as marking the moment when the Creator allowed the laws of nature to function unhindered, thus establishing the first feast.
Feast – time of self-analysis
That is why the feast means order, quiet and the period in which you analyze the results of your work. God did this when He appreciated that all those created “were very good” (Genesis, chapter 1, verse 31).
Therefore, the feast can be considered to coincide with the time of the self-analysis, during which each of us should assess her/his progress. Without such analysis, there can be no evolution. For me, the point is to be better than at the time of the last analysis. Otherwise, I try to figure out what went wrong, in order not to repeat.
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Anyway, the feast means a new stage, the experience of a new beginning. This new “zero point” has the role of reminding me to keep what is good and not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Recovering the spirit of holidays
It is indeed a great difference between what the celebration meant for the people of old and what it means for us, the people of tablets and smart phones.
For the people of the past, the winter holidays had a special perfume … they represented the seal of the tranquility over the year’s work. Even if it was not a fabulous year and the storage house was not so full, before the Christmas table, everyone was feeling full. Food was not the purpose, but the pretext of the meeting.
I know it seems tedious to spend the holidays “in the family” or “with the gang”! You just want to get some rest on holidays, and your are not in the mood for crowds or mountains of dirty dishes. But over the years, you may be willing to give anything for such an atmosphere. It will give you the power to pull another year. And, then, another one! In other words, it will make life worth living.
Do not worry about cleaning, cooking or endless supply! Those who come to visit, come for you. They do not care about the food specialties, they do not care that the tablecloth has a spot, they do not care that the curtain is not ironed (of course, except for the mothers-in-law).
For them, the goodies are bonuses! They are only interested in the “atmosphere”! It will be the only thing who will stay in the hearts of everybody over the years! And if we have more of these memories, then we can say that we also have a genuine spirit of holidays!
If you do not succeed, do not despair! Go to the church, attend the ceremonies, and help the priest to bring a ray of hope to those in need. If you do not have anything to give, just stay with them. You’re going to feel like you’ve made them smile!
If you do so, you will not only have the best holiday story, but you will know that you have done the right thing. You helped others find an authentic answer to the question of whether the holiday spirit can be lived.
PS: Exercise to Revive the Spirit of Holidays in Three Steps:
1) Clean the cabinets and sort the clothes you do not wear anymore.
2) Take the packages to a non-governmental organization operating in the field of social work or to a church.
3) Smile! You just transformed someone’s day into a holiday!
 It is the fundamental distinction between sign and symbol. The sign establishes a relationship between two elements belonging to the same plan of existence (eg, 1 animal + 2 animals = 3 animals). In antithesis, the symbol links the elements belonging to different realities. The same sign “+” turns into the symbol of the Cross “†” when it reminds us of the saving sufferings of Christ.