I love the holidays at the end of the year. And in my opinion, these are THE holidays! Our year-end celebrations give us an opportunity to reflect on a number of universally significant and worthwhile values.
Now this is not to say that there are no other times of the year when values can be recognized and celebrated. In fact, I am one who believes that every day should be a holiday, a day worth celebrating. But the last four months of the year in America bring us a concentration of traditional observances that are awe-inspiring when recognized for their positive aspects.
Of course, there are some of us who choose to concentrate on the negative aspects of holidays: they’re too commercial; there’s too much traffic; certain loved ones aren’t around anymore; the “crazies” are all over the place; you know . . . that kind of stuff. A few of us even dwell on origins of certain holidays pointing out their less than honorable births rather than focusing on the significance of holiday purposes as they have evolved over time.
The word “holiday” stems from the term “Holy Day” which in antiquity usually meant a religious observance with (or without) a festival. In more recent times, it has also come to mean a day free of labor, or one set aside for leisure, fun and recreation, or reflection. I think all of these meanings are appropriate!
For me, it all kind of starts in September when Americans observe Labor Day to recognize the value of work. Nothing is ever accomplished without work. Sometimes the work is quite easy; sometimes it’s extremely hard; most times it’s somewhere in the continuum between the two. At any rate, in one way or another, the work that someone does or has done is responsible for the materials, security, and freedoms we enjoy. I think it’s incredibly important to take a holiday to reward ourselves for the opportunity and capacity to work and the fruits that result from doing it.
To me, Halloween is significant for one very important reason: because it allows us to focus on children and bring joy into their lives. The poorest of kids can don a mask or costume and show up on many doorsteps on the eve of the 31st of October and be showered with treats galore just because they’re kids (and it has nothing to do with whose kids they are). And if we are as prudent as we are careful about what we distribute, they may get a little nutrition as well!
November brings the tradition of Thanksgiving and the importance of this holiday is all in the name. Most of us have many, many things for which to be thankful; and in the words of the late, great, gospel icon James Cleveland, “Thank you makes room for more!” The importance of developing an attitude of gratitude is incalculable. And when we can bless the less fortunate out of our plenty, the joy is compounded by our chance to give others something to be thankful for.
In December, the holiday season reaches its apex with celebrations for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and more. The core of all of these traditions is giving. There may be different origins for the giving aspects of these holidays, but no other ones are more significant — especially when we remember that we give of ourselves when we truly give and that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.
Also in the year’s twelfth month, the very last day is often used for reflecting on what has been significant during the preceding 364 1/4 days. It is also for looking forward to making improvements in our lives over the next 364 and a quarter days. New Year’s Eve gives us a chance to reflect on what we value, to determine ways to reaffirm the values that work, and to resolve to change the ones that don’t.
If we do nothing else in the last four months of each year, recognizing the value of work, the value of children, the value of the spirit of thankfulness, and the value of giving, means we have done an enormous amount of good for ourselves and others. Everything else is icing on the cake. And there’s a lot of icing.