More Than Funukkah

I’m not feeling the Hanukkah thing. Maybe that’s because I’m new at it. Come to think of it, I can’t say I’m really feeling the Christmas thing this year, either. Oh, except for the caroling on Sunday, that was special . . . sort of euphoric, really. I might say it even transcended my notion of “Holiday Spirit”. Besides the caroling, though, I’m having trouble getting my ho-ho-ho on. Are my expectations too high?

What the heck is holiday spirit, anyway? We go through these traditions: hanging lights, sending cards, buying gifts and wrapping them — for what? I think a majority of people do it for their children–for fun, or possibly an annual break in an otherwise mundane routine. Maybe we do it for an opportunity to demonstrate generosity, or for the chance to gather with family, or for a religious experience. Or maybe all of the above. But how do those reasons translate into the intangible “holiday spirit”?

There are those who would say that the holidays are the times when they feel most in touch with God. Others would say they practice the holiday customs to try and find God. Like this one friend I have, she told me once that she was dedicated to practicing weekly Jewish traditions as best as she could in order to eventually be able to feel a sense of the divine. Or at least, that’s how I interpreted what she told me. I have an admiration for her perseverance. The truth is that I, on the other hand, would never continue returning to my religious traditions if it weren’t for the buzz.

Yeah, for me, there is sometimes a buzz: an inexplicable surge of goodness, a palpable wave of joy. It’s been happening my whole life. Often times, I feel it when I’m out in nature – on the hiking trail, looking up at a tree, being present with a single leaf. The sensation was immense when I arrived at the red rocks of Sedona. And I felt it overwhelmingly when I was confirmed at the age of 13. It’s hard to describe or explain but I know it’s associated with my idea of a god.

Granted, I don’t feel it around generalized religious concepts. I find the vocally politicized “Christian” culture in America to be repulsive. In fact, I rarely reveal my involvement in a religious community because it’s hard to find a quick way to tell people, “My church is different. It’s filled with smart, compassionate, generous, loving, welcoming, rather cool and, for the most part, awesome people.” Sounds like a sales pitch, right? So I avoid it. Needless to say, I’m still figuring out how to resolve my self-identification as a church-goer.

Nonetheless, I cannot deny the buzz. Am I asking for too much to want that thing called “Holiday Spirit” to match it? That surge of goodness. If “Holiday Spirit” means anything, shouldn’t it mean a bliss, the bliss associated with being in the presence of something holy?

I’m willing to question it: this feeling. Perhaps it comes from just the right combination of caffeine and sunlight; a biological phenomenon — the body’s response to specific stimuli. And we can’t discount geological forces; after all, the Sedona red rocks are clustered around “ancient vortexes”, right? Or maybe sensations of ecstasy come from subconscious contact with aliens in another galaxy. No doubt there are hundreds if not thousands of explanations that I have not explored. Still, I’m most apt to think these feelings really have something to do with god. The one God – of everyone and all religions.

I’ll be the first to admit that the only reason I believe in this God is because I was taught to from a very early age. Further, my belief is Christian-flavored because that’s my familial context. My parents put up the tree in December and took us to a place on Sundays where people talked about Jesus. They prayed to something that sounded like a blend of Superman, Jimmy Stewart and Santa Claus, what’s not to like? Some Sundays, Dad gave me his keys to our nearly new 1979 Sedan DeVille so I could sneak out before the really boring part and play Limousine Passenger until the service was over. After that, we always went to the club for brunch. That meant all you can eat french toast and all you can drink grape juice. Believing had its rewards.

I have no trouble accepting that I’ve been psychologically programmed to have a belief in a benevolent god. I’m predisposed to experiencing religious faith. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I feel sorry for the people who aren’t. Sure, there are other ways to see this–that faith is a sign of psychosis or inferior intelligence, that faith is a gift from God, that faith is something we’re supposed to try to pass along, that faith is dangerous, etc.

Now that I think about it, I see a benefit to the absence of holiday spirit I’m feeling this year. It’s given me this opportunity to explore the whole point of my so called faith. Believing in God doesn’t start with buying and wrapping gifts nor does it it have anything to do with lighting candles and saying ancient prayers. It’s not about how I label myself or even whether or not I’m feeling “the buzz”. It’s actually much more basic than that.

It’s about what I do each and every time I interact with another human being. Do I express love?

I fail a lot. But that’s for another post.

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This post selected by a panel of readers for “Best of Holidialies ’09.

Thanks, Chip & Jette!

“Holidailies participants solemnly vow to update their Web sites daily from Dec. 7 to Jan. 6. . . . “ Day 12.

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