In recent years, I have considered how to approach the holidays. Each year I do a teeny bit better at letting go of expectations, laying aside the "need" for all the cookies, treats, and presents, and lessening the overall stress of the holidays.
There is one question, though, that visits me each year at this time:
What do contemporary Friends have to say about celebrating at this time of year?I find that I long for some discussion and even a model of truly living as if each day is holy, but the pull of bringing family together in late December--between college semesters, taking a few extra days off at work, or traveling to see frail loved ones--clearly has a strong hold on even the most faithful of Quakers.
Like striving to sustain a personal discipline of daily worship without experiencing worship among a corporate body, it is hard for me to let go of the trappings of the holidays on my own. Maybe these days we're not meant to or not called to lay down the festivities, but I still want the discussion in order to discern if that's the case.
One topic I hear about at this time of year, almost as a surrogate for the larger topic, is that of simplifying. Simplifying is not the same as practicing simplicity, but it seems as if the former has also nearly become a surrogate for the latter.
Simplifying does not address the same question as What distractions might I remove, especially at this time of year, so that I might better hear God and God's guidance for me? For me, I'd like an adult education program, or an agenda item at a business session, to address the faith community's understanding of and commitment to how each day is sacred and how we are led to respond to the Christmases, Easters, and Thanksgivings of each year.
Of course, I have to acknowledge my own shortcomings with participating in the holidays. I have sought a balance, or more precisely, a "canceling out factor" that somehow would assuage my guilt for having held this holiday season as more special than other times of the year.
I recognize that lessening my guilt doesn't equate an increased faithfulness, but still I am drawn to share my experience:
One tradition that seems to have crept into this time of year for our household, by way of the "canceling out factor," is attending to our philanthropy, our charitable giving. My partner and I consider new non-profits that we've learned about and that do work that reflects our values and address our concerns. Every second or third year, we seem to engage in our own version of a "budget summit" to update our philanthropic plan. It's a way for us to connect as a couple and check that we are helping address the needs of the world in some small but hopefully significant way.
And just to reiterate--I absolutely LOVED the book Inspired Philanthropy. It helped me confirm that money can be an ally and not something to be ashamed of. This book helps remind me that when I identify my values and philanthropic concerns, I become a more effective philanthropist. I find that I look forward to making charitable gifts, and consequently, I seek out new non-profits to support. And the holidays become a time of focusing on what I can give rather than on what I can get.
Here's my short list of organizations I feel great about supporting:
I'm still awaiting that adult education program, though. Or that approved minute from Meeting for Worship with attention to Business...
In the meantime, and while starting the early draft of this post, I came across a set of personal stories--four to five webpages of them--from Friends and from friends of Friends, about how they approach the holidays, namely Christmas. I thought the web-reference was worth sharing.
I'm also wanting to find out what organizations you support, what groups inspire your own philanthropy. Please identify them in your comments, because each year, I feel I could be doing more, and maybe you can inspire me to do just that.
And not just in December.