There was a reason our ancestors of various cultures and peoples put so many holidays this time of year. Regardless of where you are in the Northern Hemisphere any observation of nature shows a change is coming, something is building and will soon reach its climax. It marks a time of transition, of change, and in spite of the bleak months ahead, a time of hope.
It is a time to feel close to that nebulous distant presence that lurks at the corner of the human experience.
There have been and are many names for that presence, that feeling. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we call it the Holy.
Forget the moral connotations of holiness for a moment, those are additions to the base meaning. At its root “holy” means “alien”, “other”, “separate”, “foreign”, and to a certain degree even “unnatural.”
To call something holy is to say “This thing is separate from our normal experience of reality in a way that we cannot fully understand or define.”
Thus Holy Days, holidays, to describe those periods of transition when we get close.
But that is not our experience of Christmas is it? At least, that is not how we talk about it. Instead we crave tradition, familiarity, and family. Either that or we embrace the new and the exiting.
We do not cultivate a sense of holiness, of other-ness, for our so called holidays.
What would that be like? Not easy. Fasting, long periods spent in prayer and meditation, and slowly shedding our normal lives over the course of at the very least hours if not days or weeks. It would likely mean altering physical space, going somewhere by deliberate progression that is unfamiliar and possibly even unwelcoming and a bit dangerous. To the best of our ability scrape away the familiar and common place to achieve a moment where we are open and raw and ready to be transformed by the Holy.
That would be the most we can do. But none of us, or almost none, are ready to do that. So what then is the least we can do?
Carve out time in the midst of seasonal chaos to be still and quiet and contemplative.
Take a risk in the name of overwhelming grace and love to open yourself up to the next best thing to God, another human being.
Empty yourself, not in the urgent striving to do but for the sake of being empty so that you might be filled.
Immerse yourself to the best of your ability, even if for a little while, in the alien or the separate. Get a new perspective and maybe see God from that angle.
Because of its very nature, the Holy is the easiest thing to avoid. Take a bit of time to make the effort to find the Holy in the overwhelming crush of familiarity and comfort so that you might have a true Holy Day, and not just another holiday.