Reclaiming Meaning for Our Holy Days

grass seeds at dawn

Reclaiming Meaning for Our Holy Days

About a 10 to 12 minute read | 13th April, 2022

Ideas and tips for tuning into Nature's cycles to help us re-create the depth of meaning and connection that has been all but lost as the "consumer religion" has swept around the globe.

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Around the world, supermarkets and superstores and corner stores and service stations are all stocked up on cheap, mass-produced chocolate eggs and bunnies for Easter.

Easter is one of the moments in the year when it becomes glaringly obvious how the global consumer culture has overridden regional cultures and connections to the cycles of life.

Templates for celebrating and tending to Life

Seasonal festivals and holy days, our “storied holidays,” began1 as expressions and celebrations of the seasons and the spiritual aspects of life in a community and place. They were templates that guided people in tending to the continuation of Life.

Now, as I see it, the holy days’ important functions of connecting us to our place, to the cycles of nature, to a shared moral and spiritual framework, and to our ancestors and descendants, have largely been lost.

They are no longer templates for tending to Life; instead they've become an avenue for the Machine to make more profit.

The important things that hold Life together

Perhaps you’re able to be thankful that you know where you came from and who your ancestors were. Maybe you still have sovereignty in caring for your place on Earth and for the continuation of life there. Perhaps you know the traditions and customs of your people and how to keep “weaving the dreams for the grandchildren.”

More likely, you’re more like me: living on land that was taken by force from its original people, knowing little or nothing about your ancestors and only able to guess at the strands of circumstance that have woven this moment together.

For people like us, the Machine has taken away some of the important things that hold Life together.

Its up to us to take them back from the “Consumer Religion” and re-claim or re-create their deeper meanings.

If you’re embedded strongly in a particular faith, maybe you feel like you know how to do that. 

But maybe (like me) you’re from a more agnostic or atheist background and you’re building a spirituality for yourself and your family based on what you feel to be true, rather than on any particular set of dogma.

If that's you, you might be wondering: how do I reclaim the meanings of the holy days?

Me too. I grapple with this question all the time. In the sections below, I’ve shared some ideas, but I also want to say that I don’t think there is any wrong way to do this.

So long as we are motivated by a sincere intention to reconnect, to honor all of Life including its seasons and cycles, and to allow our children to feel that there is a larger Whole they are held within, whatever we can do will be enough.

The seasons in the cycle of life

Our celebrations fall at key seasonal moments because our ancestors recognized that their lives were entwined with the seasons of their place.

Now, digitally connected and aware of each other as we are, we’re a global people as well as a collective of local peoples, each with unique local seasons and circumstances.

Winter and summer Solstices mirror each other across the globe at Christmas time; spring celebrations mirror autumn celebrations around the time of the Equinoxes.

Whether we live in the tropics or closer to the poles, in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern, all of us are engaged in one dance of light and dark, with sunlight and moonlight waxing and waning, with Life flowing and ebbing in endless cycles of growth and decay.

We all experience beginnings and growth that ascends towards a peak point of maximum light, and then the descent toward dissolution and decay and the moment of stillness and maximum darkness before the cycle begins again… and again… and again. Inviting us to learn and grow and connect a little more with each recurring cycle.

Modern consumerism does not acknowledge these fundamental principles of Life. It would have us always and only on the ascent. The “growth economy” demands endless increase as if there were no need ever to slow down, reflect, let go, and rest.

The result is that we use up our energy and resources without ever replenishing them, with consequences that are all too apparent when we look at the world around us and also when we look inward.

I wrote more about letting go during the descent part of the cycle, and resting deeply in the deep stillness at the end of each cycle, here.


Inner house-keeping

Think of all the cycles. The annual solar cycle. The lunar cycle. Your menstrual cycle, if you’re a menstruating woman. Our life-cycles.

All these cycles hold important “seasonal moments” when appropriate inner work can be supported and augmented by the energies of ascent, peak illumination, descent, deep darkness, and the balances between them.

When you take time, in solitude or with others, to do the inner house-keeping work that these seasonal moments ask of us, you are tending to the unseen foundations of Life.

But the Machine does not profit from this inner work. To be good consumers, we must forget all this inner work and turn our attention outward and upward only – no matter how exhausted we get.


Its only spring for half the globe; for the rest of us, its autumn

Right now in the Southern Hemisphere where I live, it’s not spring.

It’s Easter around the world as far at the consumer culture is concerned, but from a more Earth-based perspective only half the globe is celebrating spring.

In the Southern Hemisphere, we’re in the middle of autumn. To celebrate with Easter eggs and bunnies now, here (aside from the shallow commercialism of it all) is ridiculous from a seasonal point of view.

So. In case its helpful, following are some of the things I’ve been thinking about in relation to this mid-April weekend. I’ve shared ideas for both Hemispheres, but I’ve taken a little extra time on autumn practices since that’s what our family will be engaging in this coming weekend.

birds nest with eggs in it

Spring practices...

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are lengthening and life is surging forth. Eggs and baby bunny rabbits, symbols of fertility and new beginnings, fit the spring season.

Spring means it’s time to plant seeds. Perhaps you’ll plant literal seeds in your garden, but you can also plant metaphoric “seeds:” intentions for what you want to bring forth in your life and nurture throughout the season of growth.

I wrote about my personal journaling practice for spring, here. And the internet is teeming with wonderful ideas for celebrating spring, and Easter, in a more Earth-based, respectful, meaningful way. Perhaps you could share a practice you like, in the comments below?

harvest basket with vegetables and preserves

...and autumn practices

In the Southern Hemisphere, the days are growing shorter as the wheel of the year turns through autumn and towards winter. The appropriate symbolism for us is harvest baskets, not eggs and bunnies.

The harvest may be literal, as in the image above, but it’s also figurative or metaphoric.

This is a good time to examine the metaphoric “harvest:” the results of how we chose to live and how we responded to our circumstances2 during the preceding spring and summer.

Taking stock of the “harvest,” we can sort it into things we’re grateful for and also into things we can learn from. The difficult, uncomfortable, painful things we reap in our lives are just as rich and important to our well-being as the “good/easy” things, but we have to pay attention to them if we’re to find the lessons they hold for us.

Also, as the saying goes, we reap what we sow. Paying attention to our harvest helps us make wiser choices about what seeds to plant next time.

Once we’ve taken stock of the harvest, we can give thanks for what serves us and release the rest of it.

Metaphorically, it’s like sweeping up the no-longer-needed, the debris of our lives, and composting it to provide nourishment (learning, experience, perspective) for the coming seasons, or burning it to transmute it into warmth and energy.

I wrote more about letting go of things as cycles move toward their endings, here.

New to this and not sure how to put it together for the Southern Hemisphere Easter weekend?

All this learning about all this stuff is still relatively new for me.

My kids are well aware that I’m scathing about Easter chocolate, but also that I haven’t been able to offer them any satisfactory alternative (its hard to look past Easter chocolate when you’re 10 years old. And even though it never crosses our threshold, that doesn’t prevent the kids from being bombarded with it everywhere else they go).

I’ve become increasingly committed to my own home-made version of a spirituality that I’m gradually feeling more and more at home in. So far, so good. But I’ve been hesitant about how to bring my family along with me. It feels like the blind leading the blind.

If you can relate to any of that, the rest of this section is for you: a few simple ideas for starting the process of transitioning from the expectation of Easter as the Machine has presented it to us, towards a more meaningful, seasonally appropriate Southern Hemisphere celebration.

This weekend we’ll be gathering with a few other families for a shared meal.

(a little side note about villages

We are SO blessed to be part of a like-minded homeschooling community, and this is a sure-fire way to offer my kids a solid alternative to the at-home hunts for hard-boiled eggs that kept them happy when they were younger.

If you have no like-minded "village," for this kind of support, I have two things to say to you:

  1. If you and I were in the same place right now, I'd offer you a hug. You are doing the hardest work there is, and you're doing it without the support that every human being should have.
  2. Search for your village. Don't settle till you find it. It took me all of my daughter's babyhood and early childhood to find mine, and then another seven long years to begin to feel like I could settle into it and be supported. May it take less time for you, but even if it takes longer, don't settle till you find your village. You need a village, and you deserve a village.)


... and now back to what we were saying...

Back to our shared meal on the weekend. There will just be home-made food, some beer drinking (this is Australia), and story telling. No shiny wrapped chocolate. 

(If home-made hasn’t been your thing until now, don’t put pressure on yourself about it. Do what works for you and your family. Likewise on the chocolate thing: if there would be mutiny without chocolate, then by all means have chocolate.)

Besides the meal, we’ll also light a fire. The men will think that the fire is for standing around while drinking beer and telling stories; the boys will think it's for poking with long sticks.

And those are worthy uses of a fire… But this fire will also be for tossing in pieces of paper on which we’ve written things we want to let go of. Totally optional, you understand.

And, the women will set up a craft table off to the side and provide paper and drawing materials. We’ll write down what we find in our “harvest baskets” that we’re grateful for, or lessons we've learned or insights that come to us. Also totally optional.

I’m sure the younger children will join us, and doesn't it all begin with the younger children?

We’ll write on paper flowers or paper leaves or paper mandalas. Then we’ll hang them in a “gratitude tree.” (I don't know yet what that will look like; we'll make it up on the day, perhaps by wresting some firewood away from the boys.)

That will be a good start, for my family’s first communal seasonal celebration. I plan for it to be the first of many, gradually moving us away from shallow commercialism and toward a deeper sense of meaning and capacity for connection, tending, and belonging.

One last thing before we finish: What is illuminated?

As well as the energies of spring or autumn to explore this weekend, it’s worth mentioning that there will also be a full moon.

The full moon shines into the darkness, revealing shadows that we don't see at other times. It illuminates what we may have been avoiding seeing in our lives, so that we can learn from it, release what doesn't serve, and put our attention on what does serve.

If you’re so inclined, that concept might help inspire ideas about what intentions you want to set for a spring practice. (It will also give juice to those intentions).

For an autumn practice, the clarity lent to us by the full moon might help you identify what you want to let go of into the fire.

Some final ideas and resources ...

I wrote here about using journaling and free-writing as tools for all this inner house-keeping, and here about uncovering and resolving difficult emotions.

I wrote here as well as here about using these tools as the moon wanes and during the three or so days of darkness at the end of the Lunar Cycle. 

And here is an article about balancing business with rest, which in essence is what Nature's cycles are trying to teach us to do.

Finally, I also have a new, short article about the full moon which isn't quite ready yet, but which I'll publish before the next full moon and then link to from here. 


Please leave a comment...

This was a big read; if you've made it all the way to the bottom, thank you for sticking with it! 

What did it bring up for you? Please share your thoughts, resources, ideas, below the Endnotes.


Endnotes 

  1. I'm not a scholar or a theologian; this article shares my personal understanding and the assumptions I'm making at this point in my learning journey. I'm happy to be (respectfully) corrected on anything I get wrong in the comments section.
  2. We can’t change the circumstances, but we can choose how we interpret and respond to them
  • Robert Meloni says:

    Won’t living in a village of like mined people lead to a monoculture of thought? It becomes a self-serving echo chamber, regardless of how soothing the music in it is. And isn’t that where our politics is today? Each of us seeking to be with likeminded people and rejecting different minded people. If biodiversity of plants is important to a healthy, balanced ecosystem, then a biodiversity of different minded people is required to have a healthy balanced human existence. We should not seek to be with likeminded people or seek to be with any particular minded set of people but seek to coexist gracefully with who we are with. In Christain religious words, love thy neighbor as thy self not turn thy neighbor into thyself. Happy Easter to all.

    • Kate says:

      Hi Robert,

      thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

      I wholeheartedly agree with you that a big challenge we face collectively is groups of people rejecting other groups of people and refusing to look at the world from their perspective. (To chose just one example, some groups of Christians have a lot to answer for in terms of forcing their view points onto other groups of people.)

      I also wholeheartedly repeat what I said in the article: human beings need “villages.” We need the support of a multi-generational group, beyond just our nuclear family, upon whom we can rely and to whom we are responsible. (This is not to deny the importance of the nuclear family; just to stay that by itself, it’s not enough.)

      A degree of like-mindedness within our village does not have to mean that we reject other view points, merely that we surround ourselves with people who can help us live our best lives and, by extension, make a greater contribution to the collective well-being.

      In case it should be in any doubt, let me borrow some words with which to describe what I mean by “village:”

      “[A] relatively small … multi-generational [community]. … within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the well-being of each other’s ever-roaming children and increasingly-dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.”

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