Why holidays?

I struggle with this question nearly every year. I was raised religious, so holidays were typically a time of worship. But after I left religion, I struggled to define my relationship to holidays.

We’re traveling to visit my family in California for Christmas. This week, I’ve been getting the Holiday Scaries – the anxiety around gifts, costs, travel and, this year, coronavirus. Why do we do this? Why do we participate in this rigamarole every year?

A few years ago, when trying to answer this question, I researched the history of Christmas. What I found is that it did not start with a baby in a manger but instead with pagan traditions around harvest and seasons. This is Yule, and many of our current traditions around holly and trees come from Yule.

But without religion or a life-or-death relationship to the seasons (climate change to be discussed another time), why do we holiday NOW?

I think what it really is is that we as humans have a deep, instinctual need for connection and ritual. We need our families to gather and we need to look forward to it. So many of us felt lost without these rituals last year. We need the ritual.

But this social instinct creates a contradiction in us to not give ourselves what we need, but to instead focus on the whole. I don’t throw a festival because I’m feeling lonely. That would be too vulnerable and self-serving. So our work around is to create holidays with important, typically religious, meanings to help us get connection and ritual.

Like children’s Christmas lists and Santa Claus, we give our needs over to a god, a higher power, a higher purpose. That higher power then can tell us to gather to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest or for the baby in a manger. We get what we need but we don’t have to be vulnerable and selfish doing it. We get our break at the end of the year because God and harvests and capitalism demand it.

But now these higher powers call the shots. And now we don’t get our need for connection and ritual and families filled. We instead run through holiday to do lists because God and harvests and capitalism demand it.

So this year, I’m focusing on taking the power back and getting back to basics. I’m going to try to give myself what I need and use this time to fill my cup instead of drain it.

This is the time to celebrate another year gone, to give thanks for what we received and mourn what is lost. I would like to now tell the higher power to fuck right off, I’ll take care of myself, thanks. May that be my need for rest or cookies or family or alone time, I will give it to myself and take it without shame. This is going to be why, and how, I holiday.

Thanksgiving Toast

I was raised religious (Mormon) and while I do not belong to religion anymore, I do sometimes miss the ritual. I’ve recently gotten into some more pagan practices. Using terms like “magic” or “witchcraft” feel very loaded to me, but I guess that’s what it is. I like to tune into nature, to our senses, to the magic of everyday moments. So, for a Friendsgiving celebration I attended last weekend, I wrote a toast (or a blessing, or a spell) to be said in lieu of a prayer before the meal:

First, let us acknowledge we are on native land from the Bodéwadmiakiwen (Potawatomi), Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Myaamia, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (oh-chey-tee shah-koh-ween), and Peoria tribes (list the native tribes in your area.) With each step we take on this land, we give thanks to those who walked before us and take responsibility to do better going forward.

Next, Let us now look around the table and feel the love and connection with those we are with. With each bite, we give thanks for each other.

Finally, let us raise a glass for those we have not yet met and look forward to what they will teach us. With each sip, we give thanks for what is to come.


All Too Well…

Taylor Swift has re-released Red. I’ve been listening to it this morning and flashing back to when she last released this album. 2012.

2012 was a pivotal year for me – In the fall, when Red came out, I was in Chicago for the first time interning at Obama’s election headquarters. I remember listening to Red in my apartment, listening to it on my plane ride home, and listening to it in the dark in my room at my parents’ home.

While I had been interning in Chicago, my family moved to Southern California from my childhood home in Utah. The house was much smaller, I went from my own space to sleeping on the bottom bunk of a room with my 11-year-old sister.

I was also in the process of realizing I didn’t want to be Mormon anymore. I was trying to figure out what to do next with my life, realizing I was nearly done with school but dreading going back to Utah.

It was a dark time and Red’s dark, heartbroken vibe was exactly what I needed then. And maybe it’s what I need now too.

Assuming the world doesn’t end

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I am just going through the motions. My heart isn’t in… anything. I feel numb to all of it. I thought I was experiencing a state of “ennui”, but when I actually looked up that word on Google (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement), I decided it didn’t actually fit.

There’s a lot going on right now. I work at a nonprofit and am planning our first major in-person event since the pandemic. I turn 30 next week. I’m planning for the holidays with our Friendsgiving celebration this Saturday. It’s all happening…

But the world just feels so heavy. A climate summit that doesn’t do enough. An infrastructure bill passed in the dead of night that doesn’t do enough. A pandemic that won’t quit no matter how much we do.

I think what I’m feeling is a lack of hope.

I’m starting to wonder if any progress can actually be made personally or culturally. Setting goals is challenging when a global pandemic just disrupted everything for two years and a looming climate crisis is on the horizon. In my 20s, I had big goals. But I just don’t believe in the limitless of potential anymore.

The world is heavy. This got dark. But maybe I’ll start thinking about what I want my 30s to look like, you know, assuming the world doesn’t end…

Learning to Say No

I like to say yes. When someone asks me to do something, my yes is almost automatic. I’m really good at the word yes. While agreeing to help with a favor or do something for you initially seems selfless, what I’m realizing is that saying yes when I should have said no is actually coming from a place of self-protection and even selfishness.

Yes is powerful. Yes puts me in charge. If you ask me to do something and I say yes, then I’ve created a positive interaction for us. I’m now included in whatever it is you wanted me to do. I’m now in charge of making that yes happen. Yes puts me in the driver’s seat of the situation.

Only later do I consider if I wanted to drive or even could drive. SNL had a skit this week about a thief trying to steal a classic car, and only once he was in the garage trying to drive away did everyone realize he couldn’t drive stick. He lurches around the garage for awhile to disastrous results. That’s what it feels like to be in a situation when I said yes when I should have said no.

In the moment though, I never want to say no. If I say no, I don’t know how you will react. No gives up control of the interaction. No is vulnerable. No is admitting I’m already overwhelmed, I’m already tired, I don’t have enough time. I can’t make you happy even though I want to. I am powerless.

No is telling you I can’t drive stick. Now I don’t get to be part of the heist.

But saying yes when I should have said no is really a lie. It’s me lying about what I’m able to do or what I want to do. It’s protecting my vulnerabilities, which means you don’t get to know me better. I’m denying a chance for connection and intimacy. A false yes is more interested in control than it is in connection.

And the truth always comes out. If comes out in my resentment, in my lack of follow through. It comes out in my lurching around in the garage, unable to steal the car. I’ve made the situation worse for both of us.

So I’m trying to learn to say no. And it’s a process.

First, I have to stop my automatic yeses. I have to pause and consider before I react.

Then, I have to learn to recognize the no. No, for me, feels like slight nausea and anger. I’m immediately resentful, as if you’ve told me I have to do the thing instead of asked me if I would. No doesn’t sound like no right now. It sounds like, “How dare you even ask that?” If I’m thinking that, then I need to say no.

Finally, I have to hold myself accountable to my yeses and my nos. No more saying yes in the moment and then flaking out later. If I say I’m going to do something now, I do it. And if I don’t agree to something, I don’t let myself get talked into it later.

I’m still learning. Sometimes I’m still lurching around the garage, pissed off and in trouble. But I’m recognizing that a well placed no when necessary is often much less of a problem then a false yes. It’s always better to forfeit being part of the heist than smashed in between the security doors.