Tuesday, October 20, 2015

52 Weeks to a Simpler Life – Tip #7 Can the Holidays (and Holiday Obligations) From Your Calendar

This article is being posted almost two days later than planned. My Simpler Life Tips are normally posted on Mondays. For some reason, all my Internet connectivity from wifi and from my wireless cell phone data plan stopped working at the same time. I spent hours trying to get them back. And mid- afternoon today, just as mysteriously, they came back again. So, better late than never. 

Tip #7 addresses something many people have serious, maybe even strong, feelings about, but most often don't express them externally. Why? Because, they don't want to upset anyone else's apple cart. Yes! I'm talking about “The Holidays.” Pick any holiday you choose or maybe all of them. Holidays may be religiously based, national or patriotically based, locally based or even individually or personally based.

Let me briefly opine on the various kinds and even some specific holidays. You may or may not agree with me and that's perfectly alright. I'm not attempting to endorse or disparage any holidays or anyone's individual belief systems. Many people are steeped in tradition and look forward to the various holidays for a variety of reasons. That's not a problem for me to accept.

What I'll be saying is not meant to offend anyone and I hope I don't. But, as you know, I'm not very politically correct. I call it as I see if from my personal perspective. If it coincides with your thinking or feelings, great. If it doesn't, I'm not asking you to change your thinking or feelings. If you are offended, that's on you, not me.

Religious Holidays

Let's start off with religiously based holidays. I'm only going to address those holidays that, in general, impact the overall population of the U.S. Many religious holidays impact many other nations around the world, too. There are many religiously based holidays celebrated by the other major religions of the U.S. and the world, but they don't impact the overall population. However, those individuals identifying with the other religions may feel the same about their specific religion's observances.

So, let's consider Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. These three are the major religious holidays that impact most Americans. Yes! They, just like various Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other religious holidays, are based on traditional religious events and beliefs. However, these holidays are the main ones appearing on most calendars and have, to a large degree, become secular traditions.

Good Friday is not really observed as it once was. As a kid in school, I recall we used to get Good Friday off from school and then Easter was on Sunday and the following week we referred to as Easter Vacation. To the best of my knowledge, Good Friday is no longer recognized the same way.

Easter, is observed by the practicing, observant Christians as a celebration of Christ's resurrection. usually observed by sunrise services. It's also a day for a family gathering and Easter Dinner. Then there's the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs and the Easter baskets. Now, exactly how the Easter Bunny plays into things I'm not sure, but good old Peter Rabbit hops down the Bunny Trail every Easter. In addition, we also had the “Easter Parade,” notably on 5th Avenue in New York City when everyone would be seen in their finest, new, spring clothes.

I don't have a problem with any of this, especially with those who are observing their faith whether it's Easter, Passover, Ramadan, etc. But, it really seems to me that this holiday has become, progressively, more and more about retail sales of candy, eggs, clothes and restaurant meals, for those who choose to eat out, than it is about the religious connotations. And, of course, for a number of reasons, we now refer to that week off school immediately following, in most cases, Easter Sunday as Spring Break. And Spring Break has taken on a meaning of its own.

Of course, Christmas is really the major holiday. The retail industry is geared up, stocked up and psyched up for the Christmas selling season three months before the actual holiday. The religious basis of the holiday is the birthday of Jesus in Bethlehem. But, there is a lot of conjecture about the actual date of that event and it's extremely likely it was not on December 25th. Once again, there is a significant religious observance that is both religious and traditional in basis. But, that's not all.

In reality Christmas has become the biggest buying season of the year and in many cases, this one day out of the year determines if a retailer will be profitable or not that year. So, people go apeshit over buying, buying and buying gifts of all kinds for everyone. This is usually followed, beginning the day after Christmas with deep, deep discounted sales to get rid of the massive amount of left over inventory bought specifically for the Christmas holiday season. And, let's not forget the long lines of people exchanging the gifts they received for something they might actually be able to use.

My take . . . it's insanity. Why do we have to go through all this for one day of the year? Why can't we show our love and appreciation for our loved ones – family, friends, classmates, co-workers, etc. – all year long? There is guilt, obligation, responsibility and so on all heaped on everyone to do the “right thing” for each person. Yes, I understand it's supposedly an expression of our love and feelings for each person, but REALLY? People get in fights, punch and stab one another, trample people – and yes, there are often serious injuries and even deaths at stores and malls all over shopping for gifts.

Now, let's revisit the “stuff warehousing business” I've been talking about. People store all kinds of decorations for an entire year to get them out and display them for three or four weeks, then carefully repack and store them for another year. We purchase untold millions of chopped down Christmas trees (or buy artificial trees to store for 11 months) to decorate and display. And, then there are the drawers, closets and attics full of brand new gift items never worn or used because, while the feeling was right for giving the gift, it really wasn't something the individual wanted or needed. And, of course, there is also remembering to wear or display the gifts to make sure whoever gave it to you isn't offended.

Once again, I have no problem with anyone who desires to participate in this. Believe me, I was right in the thick of it when I was younger and had a family. Thankfully, I've seen the folly, as I define it now.

National Holidays

We have lots of these kinds of holidays. Some are designated “Federal Holidays” which means most federal employees get the day off work (with pay at the taxpayers expense, of course). Many holidays, may or may not be federal, but state, regional and local holidays. They are often accompanied with a day off work, usually a Monday so everyone has a three day weekend. Of course, that three day weekend often begins on Friday at noon or even the entire day is taken off by many people making it a four day weekend. We commemorate Labor, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the military personnel who gave their lives through our many wars, presidents and a civil rights leader Heck! We even have a holiday for a guy who never stepped on the shores of the North American continent, but we celebrate him for discovering it, anyway.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November each year because this is when the Pilgrims in Massachusetts supposedly had their celebration of Thanksgiving for surviving their first year in the New World. The 53 Pilgrims shared the three day celebration with 90 native American Indians whose land the Europeans began usurping. Oops! Am I getting a little politically incorrect? Oh yeah, and it was actually a religious event thanking their Heavenly Father for their first harvest and year of survival.

Thanksgiving has become one of the most traveled times of the year. Another time for families and friends to gather to give thanks, eat way too much food, watch numerous football games on TV while digesting the food and getting ready for Friday.

Now, Friday is not actually a holiday. It's actually a work day, but most people, it appears, take Friday off anyway. What do they do? They get their shopping bags, guns, knives, sabers, brass knuckles, body armor and other paraphernalia out to go do battle on Black Friday. That's the name given to the day when all the retailers have these fantastic sales where they mark everything up 200% and then discount it 50%. People will mortally wound one another to take advantage of these fantastic inflated “deals.”

Black Friday has become so popular the retailers have moved it back a day and open on Thanksgiving Day to make sure the fairer gender and children have something to do while the cavemen are guzzling beer, going through bags of chips and rooting for one team to rip off the other team's heads. Happy Thanksgiving!

I could go on and do each holiday, but I won't. You get the picture and probably had it before I got into this. The reality is these are all holidays designed to get people to buy – Buy – BUY cars, tools, clothes, toys, food, etc.! What are Mother's Day and Father's Day all about – buying way overpriced pieces of paper with verses on them by poets who aren't able to attract an audience to buy their poetry in book form, candy, cut flowers, scarfs, neck ties, etc. All that to honor our mothers and fathers. So, is that the only way to honor them? How about showing your love and respect for them 365 days a year? Don't they deserve it?

The Personal Holiday

Yes! I'm talking about birthdays. Now, frankly, in my opinion, that's really the only important day in the year for each individual. That truly is a day that you may want to commemorate and celebrate because it is the anniversary of your very existence. Here's the deal, you can and should be able to celebrate it any way you choose and on any day or days you decide to commemorate YOUR day.

But, does it mean a party every year? Does it mean everyone important in your life – kids, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, close friends, etc. need to go out and buy you something? Not in my book. It's YOUR day. Maybe you want to have a party. Great! Or, maybe you want to go sit on a mountain top and or on a deserted stretch of beach and contemplate your life. Or, maybe you want to do something wild and crazy like jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute or go out on a boat in the ocean and catch a great white shark. Maybe you just want to enjoy a nice hamburger, an ear of corn, a bottle of your favorite soda or beer and read a good book or watch your favorite baseball team. It's your day to celebrate any way you wish.

Do you need people to spend a lot of good money buying overpriced cards and making the overused birthday comments about getting older, being over the hill, etc.? That's up to you. Frankly, with the Internet and social media, there are lots of ways to honor someone on his or her birthday that don't have to cost any or a lot of money. It's just nice to let someone know you care and are thinking about them on his or her own, special, individual holiday.

The Bottom Line

So, in my book, virtually all holidays are overrated, are excuses for doing things we should probably be thinking and doing without a specific designated day or reason. We don't have to spend massive amounts of money on stuff that really doesn't matter nor necessarily express how you truly feel about the people in your life. Ultimately, it seldom really makes anyone feel that much better for the time, expense and effort. Just my take. Call me a crotchety old cynic. I just calls it as I sees it.

If holidays are not your thing. If they, perhaps, suck the life out of you. If you continue to “celebrate” them out of tradition that ceases to have real meaning to you. If you participate out of a feeling of obligation, responsibility or guilt. Then STOP CELBRATING any holidays that seem meaningless, frivolous or you just plain don't see any point to.

That's right! Too many of us are so conditioned, from childhood forward, we accept that because the calendar says a day is a holiday and supposed to be observed in a certain way, we must comply or obey. Listen up! There are no laws, rules, codes of conduct, etc. that say we have to do anything or celebrate these days in a specific way.

Not only do we not have to conform to what most other people do, but if we choose to, we can set up our own days of commemoration. For example, November 1, 2008 was my day of “emancipation.” No, I don't mean I was a slave in the literal sense of the word. I also wasn't under the control of my parents, incarcerated in some kind of prison or obligated by a contractual relationship like being in the military or even being married to someone.

That was the day I chose to stop living in a prison of my own making. On that day, I had moved from the small ranch in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where I had lived for nearly six years. I had downsized about 70% of my possessions, much of which I which I hadn't used in years and had no need of. I no longer had my own fixed place of residence. I was what I term as “happily houseless.” I had reduced my monthly overhead by about 80% in one day. I could come and go as I pleased anytime I chose to. It was, for me, my emancipation from a life of responsibility, obligation, conformity and, all too often, guilt of various kinds. I left it all behind. I had become a free spirit and human being.

Can the holidays? If you don't like everything Christmas stands for, bow out. If you are religiously inclined, regardless of what religion you may embrace, you can fulfill your religious feelings as you choose without buying into all the other stuff.

Do I love my country? Indeed I do. And if you do, too, then do you have to celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks and all the other hoopla? I don't. I'm a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Frankly, I'm proud to have served my country. But, I don't support the wars we fought back then or the ones we are involved in currently. Am I a pacifist. No! But, I honor those who took the oath to do as they were ordered, right or wrong. Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice and, unfortunately, it seems, all to often, in vain. But, I don't need a special day to honor my comrades. I do it everyday and often thank another veteran when I can identify one for his or her service. So can you, if you're so inclined.

I have spent holidays by myself and felt content with my time. I've spent holidays with friends and family. Frankly, I prefer spending holidays with friends doing things we'd rather be doing, having nothing to do with what everyone else is conforming to.

Two of my favorite and most memorable Thanksgivings I spent overseas. One time I was in Prague in the Czech Republic. I had a wonderful dinner on Thanksgiving Day with a friend I was traveling with and three strangers from the U.S. There wasn't a turkey in sight at our dinner. I will not forget it. The other time I was in the little town of Doolin, Ireland. Again, traveling with a friend. We spent that Thanksgiving Day in a little pub, O'Connors, eating Irish stew and shepherd's pie while singing and clapping along as we drank our Guinness and the musicians, who had just wandered in, played and sang wonderful Irish music. Again, it was an unforgettable experience.

So, if the holidays are, as they are for a huge percentage of the population, a time of stress, tension, feelings of guilt and obligation (and, especially, during the Christmas season, a time when many people commit suicide), then simply stop celebrating the holidays as everyone else does and do your own thing. Go camping. Go find a place to stay at the beach. Go catch up on movies you've wanted to see at the theater. Go eat Chinese or Italian or Mexican (you pick your favorite) for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter dinners. Regardless of your religious affiliation and beliefs, you can choose to buy into the traditions or you can establish your own.

Believe me, once you've chosen to give up these conditioned, traditional obligatory commitments to something that just no longer (or maybe never has) holds any meaning for you, your life will be so much simpler and freer. Best of all, you get to pick and choose. Observe the ones YOU want to and eliminate the rest. Or, make up your own holidays and invite others to join you. How about celebrating Living Free Day. In that case, you can celebrate it 365 days a year, differently each day.

Tell me what you think. I'm interested in your thoughts on the subject. Share the idea with friends. I'm pretty sure you'll get some pushback. But, that's okay. Whose life is yours, anyway? Leave comments here on the blog or on the Facebook fan page or Google +. I enjoy your input and feedback. Live free and be happy. EH


Richard Rosen said...

This comment for me catches the essence of whether or not to observe what amounts to man-made holidays: “…conditioned, traditional obligatory commitments…that…no longer…hold any meaning for you….”

“Holidays” is a contraction of “holy days” the origin of days set aside from normal routines to celebrate that which is sacred, to uplift your spirit into higher realms.

Regardless of whether or not a holiday is sacred to a person, one can imbue it with personal meaning and value as you say Ed. As in all things, it requires thinking clearly, with determination, to plumb alignment with your personal values. Do holidays add to your life or take away? Once thought about in this light, whether or not change is needed in how to observe them becomes apparent. Then it requires wisdom to change what has been customary. After all, others are often involved. When there is a will there is a way.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Good points, all, Richard. I forgot about the origin of the word 'holiday.' Thanks for the reminder.

And, as I said. I don't judge anyone's choices on how they observe holidays. I just hear so many people complain about how they have either lost their meaning, the meaning has been corrupted by the massive pressure toward consumerism or feeling pressured by external forces from family, friends, religious organizations, etc. So, to simplify life and live a freer life on one's own terms, simply make a choice to bow out of observing any or all holidays that no longer hold any meaning for you. Travel to visit friends and family at less busy times. People can still enjoy each others' company if that's what holidays mean for them.

Richard Rosen said...

Your suggestions how to live more simply and easily are well written Ed. I'm sure people will call them to mind as we enter into the coming holiday season.