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For many years I've only minimally celebrated the "holiday season." I do not believe in any deities, but do find the return of longer days worth noting on the solstice, even if it's just a private passing thought on that evening. Luckily, my husband, Michael, and our extended families are also not attached to the decorating, cooking, and shopping madness that seems to hold many in some kind of collective trance for two months. This year my family went even further afield and skipped Thanksgiving altogether, in favor of celebrating my dad's 80th birthday the evening before. Then on Thanksgiving day, Michael and I headed to the desert and took a hike. It was warm and clear, and absolutely beautiful.
It's not that I have anything against tradition. I enjoy getting together with family. I like candlelight and fires, but am mostly too engaged in other things to bother with actually lighting or enjoying them. I love eggnog, and indulge in one quart each year, which I mostly put in my coffee, and sometimes swig out of the carton (which is mine exclusively). And on Thanksgiving morning I made fresh cranberry sauce to have with our breakfast of fried bananas and raw nuts, just because I like cranberry sauce. But you will find no lighted mechanical deer or color-changing plastic icicles at our house, and certainly not any plug-in artificial-scent-spreading gizmos. Gross.
Today we did some chores and errands. In the afternoon I went to the dojo to train with a few friends, and Michael went for another hike in the local hills. We had a quiet dinner, fed the critters, and called it a night. I figured I'd check in on Facebook before turning in, and was reminded that today was "Black Friday." Wow… So much unpleasantness and unhappiness. Violence! People brawling over shiny trinkets. I know those are outliers, but how have we come to a place as a society where this is an annual ritual? Not just the brawling, but the whole feeding-frenzy thing. It's insane.
Maybe I've come to see this seasonal absurdity more clearly as I've moved further and further from being a part of it. Or it could be that I'm more in touch with my gut feelings, and so recognize and acknowledge more easily how I feel about things. Maybe this year I'm seeing it especially clearly in contrast against the wild desert canyon and the generous, cooperative sanity of the dojo. But it's just nuts. Seriously.
The Black Friday stampede videos are the most obvious sign of something gone very wrong, but I've seen more subtle and widespread misery. Friends fretting over how stressed out they are about having to get all their decorations up. Folks dreading spending money and time on travel, just so they can spend another awful holiday with their crazy families. Friends who would rather curl up with a good book, or just enjoy solitude and introspection, irked at being obligated to participate in rituals they do not enjoy.
I commented to a local friend recently, who was in the early stages of seasonal dread and obligation, something to the effect of "You know this is optional, right? You don't have to do any of it." Since then I've started looking at a lot of things through that lens. We get hypnotized into doing the usual things, the expected things - both for the holidays and in other contexts - but we don't have to do them. We don't have to decorate, or bake, or travel. We don't have to listen to the music, or buy the shiny trinkets, or spritz holiday spice air fresheners around our houses. (Seriously, gross.)
If there are foods you love, people whose company you enjoy, or traditions that delight you, great. Enjoy those things. Drop the rest. You don't have to do any of it. It's not required.