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Planning for the December Dilemma

December can be a dilemma for those of us who live in multi faith families. Christmas is everywhere! Literally, everywhere. And everyone just assumes that everyone else celebrates Christmas. Well, not everyone does. And, some people who do celebrate Christmas also celebrate other holidays as well. 

So, what’s a person to do when Christmas literally shouts from every direction? First, pause and breathe. Yes. Simply take a few moments to slow down and breathe. This simple tip works to cultivate calm and serenity in any stressful moment. You may have to do it over and over, but it does work. 

Now, the best thing you can do when it comes to celebrating multiple holidays is to know what you want. It doesn’t matter if you live in a multi-faith family, or if you are a multi-faith individual. Different faiths have different celebrations and traditions. And those differences come to a head in December. Knowing what you want is the first step. Know what celebrations and traditions are part of your faith and those that are part of your extended family. If they are the same then you don’t really have to worry about a dilemma (except for explaining to your children why you are seemingly the only ones who don’t celebrate Christmas- if you don’t). If your traditions differ from those of your family, things tend to get a little sticky. But, it doesn’t have to be. When you know what the traditions of both groups are you can formulate a plan. And that plan is key. 

Here is what my answer to the December dilemma looks like. My husband and I are both Jewish, so Chanukah plays a central role in our household. We light at least one menorah each night of the 8 nights- usually we have two. We eat latkes and jelly donuts and tons of fried foods over the 8 days of Chanukah. We play with dreidels and eat our little chocolate coin winnings. We were both raised Christian so we have a relationship to Christmas. While I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore, my family and friends do. I will celebrate with them at parties and gatherings. I enjoy their trees and caroling. My husband and I both enjoy looking at all the Christmas lights around town. They are so pretty. I personally also celebrate Yule. My favorite aspect of this is creating my Yule altar. I craft a “yule log” with candles and wood. I never leave the candles burning near the log unattended, though! Poinsettias, greenery, and nuts are a gorgeous addition to my altar. I don’t always create a Yule altar, but the times when I do seem just a little more special. 

Having a plan is key to getting through December no matter what celebrations you choose to keep. Honoring yourself within your family is important. Knowing what is important to you and why will help you to develop holiday traditions that are most meaningful for you. 

Coping With Grief at the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time, but they can be stressful at the best of times. For those of us who are experiencing grief, they can rather be a nightmare. Whether you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one or the death of a dream, facing the holidays when you heart is broken can be painful. It doesn’t matter what the loss is, or how long ago it occurred, the holidays can bring the pain back with a vengeance. A few weeks ago I shared 21 ways to work through grief. Here are several more ways that I have found to be helpful over the years. Many of these are specific to holidays. 

  1. Understand that your grief is unique and not everyone grieves in the same way. 
  2. Know that there is no time limit on grief. It doesn’t matter how long ago the loss was. Your grief is still valid. 
  3. Skip the alcohol over the holidays. 
  4. Reevaluate your traditions. 
  5. Skip the holidays altogether if that’s what feels right for you. 
  6. Go all in if you’re up to it. 
  7. Make a plan for the big day(s). No matter how much or little you plan to celebrate, have a definite plan for the actual holiday itself. 
  8. Start a new tradition. 
  9. Make a donation in your loved one’s name. (Pet shelter if your loss is a pet, spouse’s favorite charity, etc.)
  10. Volunteer in your loved one’s name. 
  11. Drink lots of water. 
  12. Eat well. 
  13. Get enough sleep. 
  14. Rest. Rest. Rest. And then, rest some more. 
  15. Communicate with your friends and family about what you do and don’t want to do. 
  16. Be firm in setting your own boundaries.
  17. Light a candle in memory of your loved one. 
  18. Know and recognize the difference between grief and depression. 
  19. Seek out help from a therapist or grief coach if you need it. 
  20. If you plan to have a holiday meal, include your loved one’s favorite dish- even if it isn’t a traditional holiday food. 
  21. Reach out to people you regret having lost touch with. 
  22. Journal about your memories. 
  23. Journal about your feelings. 
  24. Use the holidays as an opportunity to donate your loved one’s clothes or other belongings. 
  25. Feel free to skip decorating. 
  26. Feel free to skip gift giving. 
  27. Feel free to skip holiday gatherings. 
  28. Don’t feel guilty about skipping things. 
  29. Go see a movie. 
  30. Spend the day at the spa. 
  31. Splurge on a gift for yourself. 
  32. Ask for help when you need it. 
  33. Graciously accept help when it is offered. 
  34. Spend less time around stressful people. 
  35. Spend more time with people who help lighten your stress. 
  36. Cry when you need to. 
  37. Understand that it’s ok to be happy. 
  38. Laugh when you feel like it. 
  39. Have a moment of silence at the holiday gathering in memory of your loved one. 
  40. Have each person present at the holiday gathering share a favorite memory of your loved one. 
  41. Skip sending holiday cards if it’s too much for you. 
  42. Practice self care. 
  43. Meditate. Pray. 
  44. Plan ahead who will do the tasks at the holiday gathering that your loved one usually did. For example, if your loved one carved the turkey, make a plan ahead of time for someone else to do it. 
  45. Put a memorial ornament on the tree for your loved one. 
  46. Dedicate a Chanukah candle to your loved one. 
  47. Make a memory box and have everyone fill it with memories of your loved one. 
  48. Gather some friends and create a memory chain- you know, those paper chains from childhood. Write a memory on each strip of paper and then make it into a new link. 
  49. Watch your loved one’s favorite holiday movie. 
  50. Buy a gift for your loved one and donate it to charity. 
  51. Hang a stocking for your loved one and fill it with memories. 
  52. Accept that the loss leaves your with an altered future. 
  53. Make new plans for the future. 
  54. Honor the loss of a lifelong dream by having a burial ceremony. Write down your dream and bury it. 
  55. Clear out a day or two and just have free time for nothing. 
  56. Talk about your loss. No matter what the loss is, be sure to talk about it. Find those people who will listen to you no matter how many times you talk about it. 
  57. Get out in nature. Go for a walk. Sit under a tree. It doesn’t matter. Just get outside and enjoy the fresh air. 
  58. Forgive yourself. 
  59. Forgive your loved one. 
  60. Forgive the circumstances that lead to your loss. 
  61. Choose hope. 
  62. Dream. 
  63. Change where you celebrate the holidays. 
  64. Travel somewhere new. 
  65. Visit your loved one’s grave. 
  66. If you haven’t spread your loved one’s ashes, the holidays may be a meaningful time to do so. 
  67. Drive yourself to holiday events so you can leave when you want to. 
  68. Leave an empty seat and set a place for your loved one at the holiday table. 
  69. Invite someone who has nowhere to go to join you for a holiday meal. 
  70. Find a support group to go to so you spend time with others who are also grieving. 
  71. Find something every day to be grateful for. 
  72. Exercise. 
  73. Don’t feel like you have to do all the things. 
  74. Do only what feels right to you. 
  75. Attend a “Blue Holiday” service for those who can’t do all the joy at this time of year. 

40 Things I’m Thankful for Right Now

Thanksgiving is coming, but instead of sharing yet another piece of content about counting your blessings (seriously, you’re already seeing that everywhere) I thought I’d share my own personal gratitude list. Thanksgiving 2019 is my 40th Thanksgiving, so it’s only appropriate that I share forty things I am thankful for. Some of these are the traditional things that make just about every gratitude list, and some are a little less traditional. They are, however, all things I am thankful for right this moment. The list is, by no means, exhaustive, and it’s in no particular order. I also decided not to include a reason for each. I am simply listing 40 things I’m thankful for. So, without further ado, here is my list.

  1. Books
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Health
  5. Food
  6. A home
  7. My dog, Lucy
  8. My turtles, Natchez and Roxy
  9. Belief in myself
  10. Ability to make my own decisions
  11. Personal autonomy
  12. Respect
  13. Art
  14. My car
  15. My life path
  16. Past mistakes
  17. My faith
  18. My personal spiritual practice
  19. Living Moon Meditation
  20. My clients
  21. My husband
  22. My struggles
  23. The ability to overcome my struggles
  24. Growth
  25. Self discipline
  26. My feet
  27. My hands
  28. Four seasons
  29. Scents that bring me pleasure
  30. Intelligence
  31. Reiki
  32. Meditation
  33. Warm beverages
  34. Self care
  35. Online shopping
  36. Streaming movies & television
  37. Indoor plumbing
  38. Air conditioning
  39. Central heat
  40. The ability to change my mind

Meditation. A Poem

Pay attention to prayer.

Just like meditation is prayer.

Aum.

Why is it so?

Why would you think meditation is small?

Prayer is the most sacred thinking of all.

Does prayer make you shiver?

Does meditation make you shiver?

Does it?

I cannot help but stop and look at the big meditative prayer.

Prayer is meditation.

Meditation is prayer.

Aum. Aum. Aum. 

21 Ways to Work Through Grief

We all face grief and loss at some time in our lives. It doesn’t matter what the loss is. Grief requires work to overcome. We are now coming to understand that the traditional five stages of grief aren’t always accurate. Each of us grieve in a unique way. We may have more stages or less, and the grief cycle is most often not a linear path. Here are several helpful ways to work through grief. They are not presented in any particular order. 

  1. Face grief head on. Don’t try to hide from the grieving process. You may succeed temporarily, but the emotions will come up, and you’ll most likely just make the entire process longer. 
  2. Allow negative emotions to come up.  Negative emotions aren’t bad. Being sad or angry is a perfectly normal reaction to grief and there is nothing wrong with feeling these emotions. Allow your emotions to come up freely and work with them as they do. 
  3. Understand you don’t have to cry.  Each person processes sadness in different ways. Crying is not the only way to show that you are upset or sad. It’s normal to cry when you are grieving, but it’s also normal not to. 
  4. Allow the process to take as long as necessary. Don’t put a timeline on how long the grieving process will take. Some people work through it faster than others. Whatever amount of time it takes is just fine. 
  5. Talk to someone. Find a trusted person to talk to. It can be a friend or spiritual mentor. You just need someone with whom you feel safe in sharing all your deepest feelings and emotions. 
  6. Know the difference between grief and depression. While we all grieve in different ways and for different lengths of time, it’s important to know when your symptoms are moving from grief and into depression. It is not a sign that you are grieving incorrectly. It does signal that it is time to seek outside help.  
  7. Understand that your grief journey is unique and you may not follow the “five stages”. You are a unique individual and your grief journey will be unique. It’s helpful to recognize the five stages of grief, but don’t expect that your journey will perfectly line up with five linear stages. It might, and it’s ok if it does. But it’s equally ok for your journey not to. 
  8. Practice self care. Make time to take care of yourself. No matter what your loss is it’s important to remember that you are still here. Find small ways to care for yourself each day. 
  9. Have a plan for trigger moments. We often face renewed grief when faced with certain triggers. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are big triggers when grieving after a death. If you’ve lost a job, you may be triggered when a friend is promoted. These triggers are normal parts of everyday life. Make a plan for getting through it. It’s easier to face the trigger when you expect it. You know these things will happen so plan ahead. 
  10. Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to get out of your head and get your blood pumping. A gentle walk or yoga is great. A day long hike is as well. Whatever you enjoy doing, just get out and do it. If you have trouble making yourself get active, find a friend to exercise with you. 
  11. Eat well. Step up your nutrition game. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water. Taking care of yourself through what you eat helps you to feel better. It will help you feel more motivated to get out and not sleep too much. 
  12. Get enough sleep. You don’t want to sleep too much (it’s a sign of depression), but you want to get an adequate amount of sleep. Insomnia is common during grief as is too much sleep. Adults need on average 6-9 hours of sleep each night and it differs for each person. Aim to get somewhere  in that frame each night for optimal grief processing. 
  13. Establish new routines. Routine is key for processing grief, but your normal routines may not be possible. If your normal routines included who or what you are grieving, make sure to establish new routines. If you went for a walk every day with your spouse, find a friend to go with you. It doesn’t matter what your routine is. Establish and/or replace routines as necessary. 
  14. Meditate. Meditate. Pray. Focus. Whatever you call it. Find ways to focus your mind on something other than grief. You don’t have to empty your mind of all thoughts. Just find a way to focus on something. 
  15. Seek support from your faith community. If you have an active faith community, seek support from them. If you are a solitary practitioner you can find like minded faith practitioners online. Seek out groups of people who believe and practice what you do. You can do the same if you don’t practice a faith. Find other people who don’t have a faith. The point isn’t the faith. The point is to find people who are like minded to give you support. 
  16. Find ways to laugh. Laughter is great for the soul. It can be hard to find reasons to laugh when you are grieving. Go to a comedy club. Watch a comedy show on tv. Read a funny book. Hang out with funny friends. It doesn’t matter. Just find something that makes you laugh. 
  17. Seek support for letting go of attachments. The reason we grieve is because we have attachments to the thing or person we lost. If there are no attachments we don’t grieve. This is why we don’t grieve every time some tragedy happens. Yes, tragic events are just that- tragic. But, we don’t grieve each event because we aren’t attached. Letting go of attachment doesn’t mean that you are letting go of love. It means that you are letting go of the view that you can’t go on without whatever it is you lost. This is very difficult to do alone. You’ll need friends to support you through the process. Good friends will be there for you.
  18. Leave unsupportive relationships behind. It is critical to understand that relationships don’t always last forever. Think about your best friend in first grade. Are you still best friends? Maybe, but maybe not. We get older and life happens and we change. Friends today may not be friends tomorrow. This is perfectly normal. When we experience grief we change. Alot. And fast. This means that you may grow in ways that friends don’t. Sometimes those friends you thought were great turn out to be not so supportive. It doesn’t mean they are bad people. You are just in different places. It’s ok to leave friendships behind. 
  19. Honor your loss. Create a ritual to honor your loss. It can be a one time ritual or something you will do annually. It can be something you do as needed. It can be a solitary ritual or one that involves other people. It doesn’t matter. Some faith communities have built in rituals for honoring loss. If yours does, make time and effort to participate. If not, create your own ritual. It’s important to mark and honor your loss. Doing so helps to establish the fact that what you lost was an important part of who you are. 
  20. Breathe. Sometimes we feel like everything is spinning out of control. It’s important to remember to stop and breathe when you feel overwhelmed. A simple breathing practice works wonders in helping you cope with anxiety. 
  21. Seek professional help. If you’re trying and just can’t seem to cope with your grief in healthy ways, it’s ok to seek professional help. Sometimes we need the extra support of a person who doesn’t have a vested interest in your loss. Seeking professional help doesn’t mean you’re a failure and can’t cope on your own. It means you recognize your needs are are respecting your own personal boundaries. A therapist, counselor, or grief coach three ways to seek outside help. Your needs may be for one as opposed to another. Either way, don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. 

30 Days of Holiday Prep

Halloween is over and we’re coming up on Thanksgiving pretty quickly. Then we really enter the holiday rush. And we get swamped. Overwhelmed. Stressed. We all want to have a happy holiday season- no matter what holidays we celebrate. But, often our best laid plans fall apart. The good news is, you can plan for an actually have a holiday season that is happy and less stressed. I can’t promise you won’t have any stress, but you can really cut it down. All it takes is a little planning and starting early. How early? Now. Here is my 30 day guide for preparing for the holidays. It requires one thing each day, but after the 30 days are up you will be way ahead of the holiday curve. 

If you stumble across this post after the 30 days begins that’s ok. Start whenever you see this. If you don’t have 30 days until the holidays, that’s ok, too. Just combine days when you can until you’re caught up. The goal is to do as much as you can in advance. Feel free to move days around if you need to. This is not a rigid schedule. It’s designed to help you prepare. There are no hard and fast rules.

November 4- Plan

The best way to prepare for anything is to plan. The holiday season is stuffed to overflowing with activities, celebrations, parties, etc., etc. etc. No one can do everything. Today, take a little time to determine what is most important to you. What celebrations does your family find the most meaningful? List everything you do during the holiday season and rank them. The top ranked activities are the ones you must do- those things that the holidays would be all wrong if you didn’t do them. The lower ranked things? Those are the ones you do because you feel like you have to but don’t find any meaning from. Mark those off the list. You don’t have time to do things that you don’t find meaningful. Now, you have a list of the things that are most important to you. Just realize that it’s ok if you don’t get to everything on the list. 

November 5- Set a Budget

This is pretty straight forward. No one enjoys starting a new year in debt from all they spent during the holidays. Set a limit on how much you will spend. Then, break that down into categories. If you plan to spend $500 during the holidays, set part of that aside for gifts. How much will you use to purchase supplies? Holiday foods? Ceremonial items? You’ll need cash for parties and events. Budget it all out and stick with it. You’ll feel so much better after the season ends to know you didn’t break the bank. 

November 6- Freshen Up Your Holiday Mailing List

Who do you plan to send cards to? Freshen up that list. Remove anyone that no longer needs to be on there, add any new ones. Make sure you have contact information for everyone. If you send digital holiday greetings, make sure you’re prepared with information for everyone you’ll send it to. 

November 7- Holiday Meal Plan

Today you’re going to lay out your holiday meal plan. Think Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, Chanukkah, Yule. Whatever holidays you celebrate between now and January 1st. Even New Year’s Day is included. If you have a special meal on any of these holidays plan it out now. 

November 8- Clean Out a Closet

It doesn’t actually have to be a closet. Pick a place to keep all of your holiday items and get them together. Wrangle up your gift wrap, scissors, tape, small decorations, etc. Put it all in one place. This will also be where you store your gifts later. 

November 9- Rest

Take a day off from the holiday prep. I’m an advocate of a weekly day of rest. The specific day doesn’t matter. I have Saturday built in for religious purposes. Many people have Sunday for their day of rest. Either of these is fine. If your spiritual tradition doesn’t designate a day, pick one yourself. It’s truly rejuvenating to have a day just for you. 

November 10- Purge

Go through your house and box and bag everything you don’t need. You’ll be bringing in lots of new stuff over the next two months, and you’ll need a place to put everything. Get ahead of the game now by getting rid of what you no longer need or want. This can also help other people have a brighter holiday season. 

November 11- Donate

Today is the day to donate everything you purged yesterday. All of those bags and boxes need to be taken out of your house and donated somewhere. Thrift stores are a good place to start. Just get it out and donate it somewhere that it will be used. 

November 12- Take Inventory

Now that you’ve downsized a bit it’s time to take stock of what you have in the way of holiday supplies. Lots of times we end up buying things we don’t need because don’t know what we have already. Raise your hand if you’ve done this. Mine’s definitely up!

November 13- Supplies List

So, now you know what you have. Make a list of all the things that you need for the holidays. Do you need new cookware? Write it down. How about wrapping paper. It goes on the list. Need a new tree? List it. Whatever you need in the way of holiday supplies goes on this list.

November 14- Grocery List

Once you have your supplies list make a grocery list. Anything you need for your holiday meals that can be bought in advance goes on this list. Include your turkey unless you absolutely need or want a fresh turkey. If you don’t mind having a frozen one list it now. Will you need more flour and sugar for baking? Think of any holiday foods that can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. List the ingredients you need for those now. 

November 15- Shopping

Today you’re going to go and purchase everything on your lists from yesterday. You’ll likely be making several stops, so plan for the grocery store last. 

November 16- Rest

Rest Day!

November 17- Meal Prep

Cook it up today. All those holiday items you can make ahead of time? Do it today. Also think of any casseroles, lasagna, etc. that you may want to make ahead of time for dinners later. Prepping meals today and putting them in the freezer will make it easier- and lighter on your budget- when you’re in a hurry with no time for making dinner later. 

November 18- Gift List

Make a list of everyone you need gifts for this holiday season. Then list out exactly what you want to give them. Keep your budget in mind. Will you be purchasing ready made items, making gifts, or a mix of both. It doesn’t really matter. Just list out everything you plan to give to every person you plan to give to. 

November 19- Another List

Now that you know who you’re giving to and what you’re going to give them, list what you need. It doesn’t matter if you have it or don’t. If you need it for a gift, write it down. 

November 20- Organizing

Take the list you made yesterday and determine what you already have. No need to go shopping for things you don’t need. Gather up anything you do have and make a list of what you don’t. 

November 21- Last Minute Thanksgiving List

Make a list of everything you need for the remainder of your Thanksgiving meal. You’ve already prepared items, and purchased anything that was storable, but you’re likely to need fresher items, too. Make that list today. 

November 22- Thanksgiving Shopping

Go shopping for the items on your list from yesterday. 

November 23- Rest

Rest Day!

November 24- Cleaning & Turkey

If you bought a frozen turkey, you’ll need to set it in the refrigerator to start thawing. This is definitely based on the weight of the turkey so you may need to have done this a few days earlier or maybe tomorrow. But in general, this is a good day. Also take time to clean your house today. If you’re having guests for Thanksgiving you definitely want a clean house. But even if you’re not, you want your house clean so you feel less stressed. 

November 25- Holiday Cards

Prepare your holiday cards today. Write your annual letter, sign all your cards, whatever you do for sending holiday greetings, do it today. Address and stamp the envelopes. It’s all done today, except the actual mailing. If you send emails, write them out now and save them in your drafts. If you post on social media, create the post and schedule for later. 

November 26- Rest Day!

This is one week when I change up my rest day. You’ll see why when you get to Saturday. 

November 27- Thanksgiving Prep

Cook everything you can today and take anything you already made out of the freezer. Get as much done today as possible. It will be less work tomorrow!

November 28- Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy your feast!

November 29- Decorate

I hate the Black Friday crowds so I refuse to go out shopping today. Feel free if you like. If you absolutely need a deal for something and don’t want to go out, buy it online today if you can. Otherwise, this is the day for decorating. Put up your tree. String your Chanukkah lights. Set up the menorah. Put up any decorations you like. Have fun with it. 

November 30- Shopping

While I normally don’t shop on Saturday I do today because it’s Small Business Saturday. It’s not nearly as insane as Black Friday. You get really good deals. And, I like to keep as many of my dollars local as possible. Go out and purchase any items you are giving that are ready made, and make sure you pick up the supplies you need for any gifts you plan to make. 

December 1- Gift Making

Today is the day for making any gifts you plan to create yourself. Have fun. 

December 2- Gift Wrap

Wrap all those gifts!

December 3- Mail Day

Post office time. Mail your cards and gifts today. It won’t be long until the lines at the post office are insane. If you do electronic holiday greetings send the emails today. If you post a general greeting on social media, go ahead. Get it done. 

That’s it. You’re done. Now, you’re ready to enjoy the holidays. All that’s left is the parties and celebrations. And cleaning and prepping for any holiday meals the rest of this month. But, you’ve got it planned out by now so it should be a lot less stressful. Go have fun. Enjoy the season. Happy Holidays!

Did You Know?

If you’re reading this post right now you probably read my blog somewhat regularly. You may even be a subscriber. I would bet you find something interesting in what I write. I thank you for that. If this is your first introduction to me, how serendipitous! If this is you please feel free to check out my other posts (after this one!).

Did you know that this blog is only a portion of my website? Indeed, this is just one portal into my gift to you. You can learn more about me and my healing journey by reading the “Meet Michele” section. Living Moon Meditation allows me to offer you a variety of healing services. From reiki and meditation to oracle card readings and grief coaching, I have quite a bit to offer. Check it out over on my services page.

If you are struggling with areas of change in your life, grief coaching may be for you. Many people think grief relates only to death. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Death is only one form of life change. Grief is an intense emotional response to dealing with change. We can grieve the loss of a relationship or the change that comes from just about anything. I offer many different options for helping you navigate your way through grief. If you don’t see your ideal offer feel free to contact me. I’ll be more than happy to work with you to create your ideal coaching package.

For those of you who want to work with me more in depth and on a consistent basis, I have you covered. Patreon offers the ability to choose your level of support. In exchange I will give you dedicated monthly support to help you grow into your best spiritual self. I have six tiers to choose from ranging in price from $7 to $100. The value of your offerings exceed the price of each tier. Plus, whatever level you choose, you will receive the benefits of all the lower tiers as well. Check it out now! If you join me on Patreon now, you’ll receive a special offer. I am gifting a free elemental personality chart to all Patrons subscribed at the Chai ($18) level or higher. But you need to hurry. This offer expires at NOON on November 3rd, 2019.

Samhain, Death, and Dying

Samhain (pronounced sow-win) is the Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season. Literally translated, the word means “summer’s end”. We associate Samhain with modern Halloween, although the festival is much older. Many modern Halloween customs, however, do spring from pagan Samhain practices. 

Back in my Christian days I was extremely anti-Halloween. I remember that once I wrote an essay denouncing Halloween for being a holiday of devil worship built upon pagan roots. Nevermind that Christmas and Easter are also rooted in pagan practices. I can only say that my strong aversion to Halloween was because of Christian indoctrination and not understanding what Samhain represents. 

I find it fascinating that most cultures have similar celebrations and that those celebrations are generally clustered around the same time on the calendar. Samhain comes shortly after the Jewish festival Sukkot, and is on the same day as the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Yes, I said they are the same day. Celtic days, like Jewish days, begin and end at sunset. If you notice on most calendars you will see a note that says “Jewish holidays begin at sunset on the evening prior to the date listed.” The same is true with Celtic holidays. Samhain begins at sunset on October 31 and runs until sunset on November 1. Our calendars list Halloween as October 31 because our days begin at midnight. 

Samhain is not an evil holiday. It is not about worshipping satan and all that stuff. The vast majority of people who celebrate Samhain do not even believe in the Chrsitian Satan or even in the concept of a similar being. Like Sukkot and Dia de los Muertos, Samhain is about remembering, honoring, and connecting with those who came before us. 

Samhain represents death, and that frightens a lot of people. Our society is afraid of death and dying. We do everything we can to postpone death for as long as possible. For some, the ability to live forever would be a welcome option. But death is a natural part of life. We all will die at some point. We shouldn’t fear death. We should aim to die well. Samhain ends the warm growing half of the year. It is the demarcation line between light and dark, life and death. Samhain is a transition to the dark half of the year. What we have not harvested returns to earth. It is a cycle. It is organic. 

If you can, make an ancestor altar. Light candles, add photographs or a list of names, and add little gifts and treats of things that your ancestors liked. If you can’t make an altar, take time to explore and deepen your knowledge of your family history. Pick one ancestor or loved one whom you would like to remember and light a candle in his or her honor. These are just a few of many ways you can celebrate Samhain if you don’t already have it as part of your traditions. And, if you do, feel free to share your favorite Samhain customs below.

 

The Ouroboros Year

The autumn Jewish holidays will end this week with the days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The soul searching that began during the month of Elul will culminate in the joyous abandon of Simchat Torah. 

The seven day festival of Sukkot ends today (Sunday October 20). As the sun sets this evening we mark the beginning of Shemini Atzeret. Literally, the name means stopping on the 8th day. While Shemini Atzeret has no customs of it’s own, it is, nevertheless a holy day. It is a day for dwelling with G-d. You know how when someone you love comes to visit? Sometimes when it’s time for them to leave you are having such a wonderful time and you don’t want them to go. So, you ask them to stay for another day. That’s Shemini Atzeret. We have had this month almost two month time of introspection and deepening our relationship with G-d. Now it’s time to leave. But G-d wants to spend one more day with us before sending us back to our ordinary lives. So, we spend this day with G-d. Just dwelling. In relationship. Deepening. 

Immediately as the sun begins to set on Shemini Atzeret we begin the final of the autumn holidays- Simchat Torah. This is a day of joy and rejoicing in the Torah. The Jewish scriptures, the five books of Moses, are central to our daily lives. We read the complete Torah each year- a new portion each week. We  study the weekly portion, read it aloud in synagogue services, and apply what we learn to our lives. Simchat Torah marks the end of the cycle. We read the end of Deuteronomy 34 and immediately begin again with Genesis 1. By looping from the end to the beginning we remember that the Torah is a cycle- it has no beginning or ending. The festival is also marked with dancing and parading with Torah scrolls. 

From the 1st of Elul until the sun sets on Simchat Torah, we have spent 52 days with G-d. For the past 52 days we have looked inside ourselves, questioned our motives, renewed our relationships, and embarked on a new year of Torah study. May the new year of 5780 be a reflection of the work from the past 52 days.

 

Sukkot and Ancestor Veneration

Now that we have passed the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, we are embarking upon another 7 day Jewish festival- the harvest festival Sukkot. Sukkot begins on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei- at the time of the full moon. Sukkot is a time to build huts and decorate them with fruits. It’s the time we dwell in these huts to remind ourselves of our agrarian roots and the temporary nature of the dwellings we lived in in the desert after the Exodus. 

Sukkot is so much more than this, however. It is also the time to venerate our ancestors. Just like the Celtic Samhain and the Mexican Day of the Dead, Sukkot is a time to honor and remember our ancestors. Building a sukkah and engaging in everyday activities within it is not enough. We also welcome ushpizin or guests, into our sukkah. Those guests are friends and relatives, but also, our ancestors.

Traditionally speaking we invite one of the seven patriarchs and matriarchs to dine with us each night of the festival. It is often common to also welcome our own ancestors to dwell with us as well. In order to welcome the ancestors it is customary to decorate the walls of the sukkah with photographs and other objects. We also place empty chairs for the spiritual ushpizin to sit in. Special prayers and blessings are recited for welcoming the souls of our departed ushpizin. When we decorate the sukkah and welcome our spiritual guests, we are basically building an ancestor altar (although modern Judaism would not even be aware of this). 

The custom of welcoming guests into our sukkah goes all the way back to our patriarch Abraham. It is well known that he would sit in his tent and welcome guests. His tent is said to have been open on all sides so that he could see travelers from whatever direction they came. When Abraham saw a traveler, that person would become his guest for a welcoming meal and respite from the road. 

Let us be like Abraham and make this Sukkot a lovely time of welcoming our ancestors as guests. They have been travelling a long and hard road after their passing. Let us welcome them into the cool shade of our sukkah for rest and a meal.