Holidays

I approve of holy days. If you have honest belief in a religion, I hope you celebrate its holy days with prayer, and ritual designed to uplift you, and acts of service to your conception of God.

Nowadays, though, a “holiday” is not a holy day, but a break from routine, an escape from the everyday, a reason to travel and spend.

I disapprove of holidays, and don’t bother with them myself. They occur in my writing, because I write about people other than myself, and then I need to “become” my character, who almost certainly has more conventional views about holidays.

No, this doesn’t make me a grump. (Well, maybe I am a grump, but not for this reason.)

The concept of the holiday is a modern invention. Apart from holy days, only a few generations ago, life simply went on for people. It does have advantages. If life for you is full of drudgery, or boredom, or stress, or hardship, or all of these, then getting away from routine is a great thing. But, since I started with religion, I can tell you that Jesus, Mohammed, and non-religious icons like the Buddha recommend a different way of solving the problem of an unsatisfactory life.

Insha’Allah — as God wills — is simple acceptance. Whatever your circumstances, you can be content if you accept. The wisdom of this injunction is that unhappiness doesn’t come from your circumstances, but from your resentment about them.

Most of my readers are Christian in background. I invite you to comment by listing a few quotes from the Bible with the same message. Yes, I do know what they are.

And acceptance is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy. See my essay on Buddhism for Christians.

This doesn’t mean passive acceptance of fate. We do have a duty to do our best to improve things. These may work, or not. Either way, we can live in contentment.

So, I don’t need holidays. I struggle to fix whatever is wrong in my life: undergo medical procedures to fix a well-worn body, campaign on causes important to me, give a helping hand to those less fortunate than I am. From time to time, I crash when looking at the crazy world I live in. Even then, though, I am content to be where I am. It’s OK.

If everyday is OK, you don’t need to get away from it.

Holidays, particularly Christmas, are times of intense sadness for many.

A great many people are happy to have left their family of origin behind. Memories of childhood are full of pain. They deal with this through avoidance: building their own lives and minimising contact with people from their past. That works fine for most of the year, but Christmas customs include the obligation to attend family gatherings.

You then spend several hours in the company of strangers you have little in common with, or worse, with enemies. You find that you revert to behaviour you used to hate about yourself and long changed, and walk right into the forever-tensions that used to poison your life.

You know, attending that yearly Christmas battle is a choice. You can weigh up the pluses and minuses, and if there are more negatives than positives, you don’t have to go.

If you do attend, you can make another kind of choice: to refuse to revert to old behaviour, to ignore rudeness or hostility, and to have a good time with those relatives you do like.

A second reason for unhappiness over the holiday season is for those who have lost a loved one. Your grief may have resolved, and for most of the year, life goes on fine. But on a few days — perhaps a birthday, an anniversary, and Christmas — the pain returns, and you feel the gaping hole in your life.

This is legitimate pain. It is OK to feel it, to honour a person still in your heart but gone in physical presence. Many people cope by performing a small ritual of remembering, and then concentrating on the good memories. Talk about the person, enjoy old photos, laugh at humorous times. And it’s fine if tears are mixed with the laughter.

Finally, there are those who are lonely and isolated at the best of times, but the absence of anyone who cares is all the more painful at Christmas, when the expectation is sharing and companionship.

You are not alone in being alone. Take the trouble to find someone else who is sad and lonely, and get together. Cheer each other up. And if you do have a joyful family, invite a lonely person to share with you.

Going back to holidays in general, I have two more problems. First, they very often involve tourism. A tourist is a person who causes five times as much environmental damage than during normal life. This can be approximately measured by its financial cost.

Even when the destination’s people owe their livelihood to tourism, they suffer many negative impacts: destruction of culture, inflated prices of goods and services, actual deprivation. For example, ask Hawaiians about the cost of housing.

Second is the consumer crap. Business has invented an ever-growing number of “special days” when we are required to buy, buy, buy. We are destroying the planet with the crunch of plastic toys underfoot.

If I could create the world I consider ideal, every day would be a holiday: freedom from drudgery, and boredom, and stress, and hardship. I can do that by staying at home, by doing my best to improve my world, and simply accepting what is, for now.


Please leave a comment below, and it’s OK if you disagree with me. Then visit these writers and read their take on holidays.

Rhobin L Courtright
Skye Taylor
Helena Fairfax
A.J. Maguire
Anne de Gruchy
Diane Bator
Rachael Kosinski
Marci Baun

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About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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9 Responses to Holidays

  1. Bob, that was a very enlightening article. It was good to read about the side of the holidays very few people talk about.

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  2. Rhobin says:

    In many respects I agree with you assessment, but I am very lucky to have holidays that mean communing with family, and I am also very lucky in that all of my family are also (still) good friends!

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    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Yes, in a cohesive, loving extended family, a holiday is an opportunity for maintaining friendships with those who may be geographically distant but emotionally close. But then, you’re the kind of person to maintain warm bonds, from what I know of you.
      🙂

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  3. Skye Taylor says:

    I am a Christian and as a parent I strove to “Keep Christ in Christmas” by ignoring as much of the commercial hoopla as possible. We spent Advent moving Mary and Joseph from one windowsill to another as they journeyed to Bethlem. While we were at church on Christmas Eve the baby would arrive in the stable to the children’s delight. Imagine my satisfaction when a grandmotherly woman asked my three year old if she knew who was coming to her house soon and my little girl brightened and declared, “the baby Jesus!” Holy days don’t have to be perverted by the commercial world if you don’t let them.

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  4. Hi Bob, I totally agree with you about the commercialisation of Christmas. Here in the UK the shops start promoting all their Christmas stuff from October onwards, and in the supermarkets people shop as though they’re laying in for a siege. On my blog post I mentioned some Christmas books I love. One of them was one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s. I remember as a child reading how her dad had made her a doll for Christmas, and how much she loved it. That was the only present she got but she was really happy. Nowadays children just get so much! Do they even remember any of it after a week?
    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post!

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  5. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Helena. I also remember Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books with fondness. Her father also spent months carving a Christmas present for his wife.
    That kind of present I approve of.
    Consumption is consuming the planet, and I am doing my best to add as little to it as possible.

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