This year, a principled approach to the holidays

Posted: Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The holidays are upon us. We look forward to special times with family and friends. But in modern America it is also a time for excessive demands on the budget; for high expectations and disappointing realities; for family gatherings and strains on family relationships.

How can we reduce the seasonal stress? When I evaluate my holiday experiences, I see that the best have come when I approached the holiday season firmly grounded in the ideals I learned in Sunday school and honed as an adult. The bad times came when those ideals were ignored or overtaken by the onslaught of advertising, peer pressure and insecurity that are hallmarks of the modern American pop culture of greed and self-indulgence.

As a Unitarian-Universalist, my ideals are expressed in the seven UU principles. UU's covenant to affirm and promote:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person

2. Justice, equality and compassion in human relations

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations

4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning

5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large

6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

One of the underpinnings of the principles has been described as a "faith in the power and potential of humanity and, along with it, a trust that if, in community, we open ourselves to the nature of things and pool our inherently limited individual perspectives, awareness will emerge within each of us and also in community. In short, we need each other to find our way."

Whether gatherings over the holidays are gatherings of friends, family, religious community or just a crowd at the mall or an airport, I try to stay connected with my underlying faith in humanity and its potential. It helps to remember that while sometimes I might be a little (or even a lot) uncomfortable in that gathering, we all need each other to find our way.

Another principle behind the UU principles is even more appropriate to the season. It has been stated as a "comprehensive love: caring about the quality of life of all human beings and of the interdependent web." In other words, the UU principles carry the essential spirit of the Judeo-Christian tradition - not the letter, not the doctrines, but the spirit.

For most of us, the holidays will be pleasant. It is hard on those who have lost loved ones recently or who are separated by distance from family, but it is generally a time of happy gatherings and positive feelings. We give thanks for the things that make our lives whole and those that bring our lives joy. This year, let's not forget those whose lives are not yet whole or have little joy. Whether it is through a gift to the Glory Hole, the Salvation Army, the food bank or another charity, if you can do so, share some of your good fortune. Don't forget your neighbors who may be missing their own family gathering - open your door to others. I fondly remember when a gloomy holiday was brightened with an invitation to share a Christmas feast at the welcoming home of a casual acquaintance.

Finally, when I shop for gifts, I try to shop with sensitivity to my principles. I look for products that come from cottage industries and use sustainable materials. Instead of tangible items, I often make gifts to older children and adults in the form of charitable donations in their name. Instead of buying the latest toys and gimmicks that "every child must have," I look for books and items that challenge a child's imagination.

With a little "principled" effort, it's a lot easier to keep the season joyful. Happy Holidays to all.

• Dave Dierdorff is a member of the Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

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