Last night I attended my first Hanukkah. Latkes were eaten. (Thank you spell check.) The candles were lit. A song was sung. I appreciated the invite to such a multi-cultural setting. Friends share simple pleasures and that is sweet and fun. Sweet and simple is more common and more powerful than conspicuous consumption.
But no Dad, I haven’t converted to Judaism. My life and Whidbey Island is a multi-cultural experience. Behind us was a Christmas tree. Over in the stack of books was the Tao Te Ching. Here at home, my tree is up. The Tibetan prayer flags are draped in the wind as usual. Representations of two of my animal spirit guides adorn my house. A quick reach to the bookshelf would grab Hindu, Confusionist, and other texts.
The Hanukkah story resonates for me. People with scarce resources survived longer than expected. It isn’t a story of opulence or a bacchanal. The Christmas story is set as a poor family hunting for lodging on a wintry night. Most spiritual stories that I remember deal with people living frugally, renouncing riches, and being more aware of the realities of their world.
Frugality is not a new thing. Respecting the resources that are available, and trying to maintain a sustainable life are eternal human pursuits. Many define my frugal life by what I lack. I’m aware of what I lack, but I am also aware of the riches available to me. I have running water, a flush toilet (that takes too many flushes but that’s another chore), a warm house, a car, a computer, family, friends, food, drink, and safety. Somewhere there are people drinking from puddles, trying to survive in war zones, without any way to find their family or communicate with the broader world. I want, and think I need, more; but I am also aware of what I have.
I feel a pinch of regret because this year I am not buying as many presents for family and friends. Sorry folks, but that’s the way it is. I am not the only one. Last night I received a gift of cookies. Excellent. Apples, pears, cheese, and such came in a few days ago. I look forward to delivering some baked goods, giving some of my books, passing along items that I know will be used more in someone else’s life. Artists are handing out unsold pieces that are the equal of everything they sold, and should be appreciated just as much. Thank you by the way.
I’ve lived the life where every present was bought, wrapped, bowed, tagged and placed under a tree. The obligatory part of the season was more readily met, but I recognize that most of the gifts weren’t memorable beyond a week. The gifts represented a ritual, especially after I moved away from home. The ritual was the consideration of each recipient. At least once a year I thought about what they might want in their life. I had to consider what their life was like. The thoughts took me back home even when I didn’t travel. This year I find myself thinking about everyone just about as much. I also find myself with more time, and will be able to devote time to considering family and friends while sitting at home, quietly sipping a contemplative beverage, instead of trying to remember lists, shipping schedules, addresses, and clothing sizes while standing in the midst of a mall crowd.
I hope to make my mall pilgrimage. Every year I like to spend a few hours in the mall, watching everyone else. Partly it is people watching. Partly it is reminiscing. Partly it is investment research. (It is natural for me to notice patterns like what shopping bags are the most common, which stores are busiest, what people are talking about, and what people are eating. It was one of things that convinced me to buy Starbucks (SBUX) because all of the shopping bags streamed into that one store eventually.) Maybe I’ll drop by later this week if I can catch a bus. I have no desire to subject me and my car to shopping mall parking lots.
Today is the Solstice. The days of incrementally increasing darkness will be replaced with increasing light. It is an unequivocal astronomical cycle. Economic cycles exist too. The downs are followed by ups. Usually the cycle is measured in months. Lately it has been measured in years. Some think it will be measured in centuries, like a new set of Dark Ages. We won’t know who is right until the light returns. Stay tuned.
Last night’s celebration felt like the beginning of a long string. People are talking more positively about 2012. Happy New Year has a real emphasis on Happy and New, as we look to better days. Official events may be lagging, but personal events seem to be emerging. There are more party invites than usual. More small local venues opening for music through the end of the year. I even have more to celebrate about next year. My teaching and art event schedule is filling. My photo schedule already has four months of overlapping commitments, and I haven’t added some of the biggest events. (Though one of the biggest in mind is the premier of the fifth of five Whidbey Island photo series to be hosted by Raven Rocks Gallery.)
My guess is that there will be a job spike in January. Many firms prefer to wait until the new budget year before hiring new employees. Besides, that way they don’t hire new folk and immediately have to pay them for the holidays. If that hiring happens, then the year end celebrations may be extended and renamed New Year celebrations. More parties? A Happier New Year? Sounds good. Sign me up. Let’s celebrate!
(Reminder: Stay tuned for my semi-annual stock review, my description of why I own what I own as part of a personal conversation and exercise I make public to inspire discussion.)