We celebrate many of these events every year, but how often do we stop to ask ourselves, what is a holiday?

As with most words, if we take a look at its original definition, we can gain some insight into how it was historically used as compared to the modern implementation. According to the “Online Etymology Dictionary” the definition is as follows:

Holiday (n.) “1500s, earlier haliday (c. 1200), from Old English haligdæg "holy day, consecrated day, religious anniversary; Sabbath," from halig "holy" + dæg "day"; in 14c. meaning both "religious festival" and "day of exemption from labor and recreation”...” [1]

It is clear to see that the primary intent of this word holy-day was to stop everything and observe a special religious occasion. As we have evolved into more modern times, we have changed our focus to a more secular approach. Traditional spiritual practices have predominantly fallen away and relegated these holidays as extra “vacation” days for many working people in the west. It should be noted that there is a difference between a government imposed holiday and one taken for non-secular reasons. However, over time, these two different holiday types have been united by one single point.

Holy-days have evolved into holidays, which have collapsed into a new single point that we can call holidaze. This word represents a notion that modern-day consumeristic society has created. This idea suggests that our traditions and reasons for celebration have shifted so far away from the origin, that they are hardly recognizable. This shift is a result of the slow degradation of religious and spiritual conventions, teachings and interpretations over time. Because we are inherently spiritual beings, as this foundation has been washed away, it has placed us in great danger for being subjugated by something like consumerism. It’s critical to note, that consumerism can be replaced with any “ism.” We all follow some religious dogma whether we want to admit it or not. So as we have created a spiritual vacuum, we have allowed for something to replace it. Now that we have become fragmented, we are left with nothing less than a general malaise.

To better understand this turmoil, let us have a look at the metrics that define a “successful holiday season” according to any major media outlet. Success looks like high sales volumes which translate into corporate profits. Personal success seems like an ever-increasing waistline, food that we will not eat, far too much alcohol and shiny new objects that entertain momentarily at best. Now, the Pilgrims had a smorgasbord of food, but it was in celebration for a blessing that they had received through a bountiful harvest. The ironic part is if they over ate during this feast, they might not survive the winter. We have almost no risk of this.

We can back further into the den of family life as well. What are we faced with as we all prepare for such a feast? If we don’t plan well in advance, we will be sure to battle long lines at the grocery store. We will then in some fashion visit with people that we have most likely relegated to being “relatives.” We see these people once or twice per year and place them in that category because there is no bond there aside from at best blood relations. Now, we haven’t even gotten to the meal yet.

After some portion of the family has run around tirelessly and cooked all day, perhaps it is time to sit down for a family feast. That is if we can get all of our relatives to hold a peace treaty for long enough to sit around a dinner table and eat. Of course, at this point, the goal is to eat as much food as fast as possible. This race is to ensure that the tryptophan works appropriately as a sedative post meal. We should keep in mind that this post-feast feeling of exhaustion has nothing to do with the tremendous spike in blood sugar levels after one gorge oneself.

Now, if we can stay awake long enough, there is another spectacle to behold. It seems as though every year the stores open earlier and earlier. If we flip on any of the mainstream news channels after our feast, we will be sure to see the consumer octagon. People get stirred into such a frenzy that the terms mob mentality or mania comes to mind. This action is all to get a “good deal” on a television that they can bring home and waste countless hours of their life being entertained. It all seems a little ironic that we sit at home and watch folks grapple for entertainment devices and call that in and of itself, entertainment. We all know that in the back of our minds at some point we must brave these crowds as we will need to buy something, for someone, because we are told that is the best way to show that we care.

As we snake out into the stores during this holiday season, we are sure to find many shiny objects. Perhaps we will see the perfect gift to give to that someone special in our lives. As with any gift, it will be a game of Russian Roulette. We could buy something that they have to at best fake that they like, or we could grab them something that they will love and cherish for years to come. Perhaps this has something to do with how well we know them as people, and that could stem from how present we are when we are with them. Once we have found a great gift to give to our friend or family member; it is time to leave the store. However, don’t worry, there is yet one more hurdle to overcome.

Since we are in the spirit of giving, we encounter one more ambush. As we exit this consumer paradise, we are funneled out a door. Upon the door opening, we either hear a loud ringing bell or young boys dressed in Boy Scout uniforms. They are asking for a charitable donation. What they are doing is nothing less than noble. Funneling folks like cattle is perhaps not the best way to garner philanthropic funds. This sort of guilted giving could create an even more bitter and cynical Ebenezer Scrooge type of character.

Of course, to this point in the article, we have been on a race to the bottom. There have been many extreme examples presented with some fun being poked at the whole thing. The point is that things have slid far off course. We are leading lives that are devoid of components that we as humans direly need. Even if we choose the secular path, there are several things that we can do to improve our lives and the lives of those around us, especially during the holidays.

We must be mindful of consumerism. Consumerism is a system of which we are not independent. We feed and chart its course through the way in which we spend our money. The compelling thing is the most essential and profound gift costs us no money at all.

The best gift that we can give is that of presence. Yes, presence, not presents. For some of us, we may be wondering what presence is? This is the notion that wherever we go, there we are. We come into the moment and are genuinely with whoever and whatever is around us. We can see others for who and what they are. This practice allows us not to get ensnared by the ego.

For example, if we become frustrated by how one of our relatives is acting, if we are truly present, we can realize that they are behaving this way for some reason. If they are, for example, taking advantage of us, then we can practice compassion. We know that if they take advantage of people, that they inherently push them away. From this, we understand that they are probably lonely. We can entertain the idea that they have experienced some difficulty or hardship that has made them this way. This notion is one component of what should become a more substantial spiritual practice.

As was mentioned earlier, we are inherently spiritual beings. Therefore, we should seek a spiritual practice that can satiate us. We should be careful not to dismiss the knowledge and wisdom present in all ancient traditions. Many hundreds or thousands of people have created these traditional "religions." When we can organize the collective psyche like that and get it onto paper (Bible, Tao Te Ching, etc.), then there is likely some precious information there. We must be careful to recognize the symbolic nature of these texts and to not take them literally. If we do that, one aspect that we see time and again is the notion of gratitude.

One component of any spiritual practice is gratitude. Gratitude cannot be over-practiced. This exercise is especially true during a holiday such as “Thanksgiving.” Gratitude means “the quality of being thankful.” It is often rare to hear any formal practice of people sharing what it is that they are thankful for on such a day. There is only a bizarre implied gratitude with some, and nothing of the sort with others. Perhaps if we all took a second to pause and give thanks for the food, company, house, cars, necessities, and niceties that we have, we would look at the world a little bit differently. Additionally, this should not be a practice isolated to a single day of the year that has been labeled as a day of giving thanks. We should be giving thanks for every single day that we are alive. Life is a miracle, and we should treat it as such.

To follow on with things that only happen during this holiday season, the notion of giving needs to be taken into consideration. Why is it that we just give during this time of year and only under the pre-conceived social stress of being bombarded by a Boy Scout at the exit of a grocery store? How is it that we can realize that the fruit of life is giving? When we are sure that the other is taken care of, we can be sure that we will be taken care of in return. We have also been endowed with a positive feedback loop often called the “helpers high.” We get a good feeling when we help other people especially under our own choosing.

In conclusion, this is not an article aimed at the hatred of the consumer capitalist system. What we have, is the best construct that the world currently has to offer. However, this is by no means to say that it is any semblance of perfect. When many consumers proceed to unconsciously follow the messages that are delivered to us through media, there arises a monster. This monster has more power than the individuals because of its collective nature. This idea is to suggest that we as separated individuals do not have the power to stop it, but we do have the ability to increase our level of awareness.

If we each can see the part that we play in the overall collective, as painful as this is, we have reached the point of initiation. This realization is the point at which we can start to make a change. Let us aim to change the mindless holidaze back into a notion of “holy days.” These holy days will not resemble those that have existed in times past, but must reflect the current situation. To begin, one strong position that we can take is that of personal responsibility. If we each can commit to making an internal change, then the external shift will become profound.

[1] “holiday | Origin and meaning of holiday by Online Etymology Dictionary.” [Online]. Available: https://www.etymonline.com/word/holiday. [Accessed: 25-Nov-2018].