Preparation Makes Holidays More Meaningful

Today I happened to read the Saturday Religion section of the local paper, The Register Guard, and my eye fell on the lead article:  “Preparation Makes Holidays More Meaningful.”  I found myself agreeing with the author, Larry Gruman.  For him, the lead up to the big event is as important–if not more so–than the main event, for they enrich the experience of the event.

It makes sense to me.  As a child, Christmas and Easter were so magical because of the anticipation we had for the events and the long, slow buildup of excitement.  We kept the holidays and their meanings foremost in our hearts and minds for weeks, and when they finally came, we ourselves were practically overcome with joy.  Today, I’ve reached a point in my life where holidays too easily become just another day–something to notice with almost faint surprise.  Real Ostara is fast creeping up upon me, and I’m not really preparing for it since I have so, so much work to do right now with school.  If I were home, I’d be making pysanky with my mother and grandmother, discussing when we’d make the hrutka and pashka, slowly cleaning the house so that everything would sparkle by Easter, and–in general–slowly becoming aware of spring’s creeping arrival.  The process would go on for weeks.

These days, I’m far more likely to spend a concentrated amount of energy over the course of 3-7 days around the holiday, and it becomes more nuisance than joy.  Maybe I need to learn the art of slow preparation and to adopt, like Gruman, some daily habits in preparation for my Sabbats.  I might not read any Psalms, but I could greet people with smiles, say grace, make a point to search for a sign of the season every day, and other such activities.

Preparation Makes Holidays More Meaningful
By Larry Gruman for The Register-Guard.  Saturday, March 5, 2011

When the Pilgrims came to America in 1620, they made strict rules for their society.  One of these rules was that no celebration of Christmas or Easter was to be held outside the church.  The reason behind this was that in their old home in England, Christmas and Easter festivities had turned into orgies, street brawls, and wild parades, and the Pilgrims wanted none of that in their new homeland.

So, the celebration of Christmas and Easter in New England was downplayed, with only a mention of that day in church services.  That custom remained in many churches until the last century when a deeper understanding of these key events became desirable.  The ritual and liturgy of Christmas and Easter seemed to require more than a single day, so gradually the four weeks of Advent and the 40 days of Lent evolved into important times of preparation.

As a boy, I experienced this transition to a prolonged season of celebration.  And I came to appreciate the stepping stones that led to a better understanding of these events in the Christian calendar.  Muslims observe their monthlong Ramada; the Oregon Ducks spend weeks getting ready for the football season; many of us spend a good deal of time preparing ourselves for an overseas trip.  These are all stepping stones to prepare for a climactic event.

For me, the 40 days of Lent are times of anticipation, preparing myself for the day that shakes all conventional thought.  Easter is just too big for me to confine it to a single day–it breaks the shell of ordinary ideas, ordinary rhythms.  If I am going to experience the full impact of Easter, if my life is going to be re-directed, then a good deal of preparation time is necessary.

As I discovered that a season, rather than a day, made these holidays more meaningful, I looked for a way to engage the preparation time with some special actions–a bit like a mountain climber on Mount Everest camping at increasingly high altitudes to acclimate himself toward the summit.  Some people feel that giving up something for the season lends increased meaning to the final step.  My experience has been just the opposite:  I found that adding something to my daily routines made the final celebration richer.

Every year is different, and every year I try a different daily habit.  Here are some stepping stones to Easter that I found helpful:

  • I ask a blessing at every meal in the day, even in public restaurants.
  • I greet everyone I meet with a word and a smile–and an inward prayer, “God bless you.”
  • I read a prayer from a book of daily prayers.
  • I make a point of reading a Psalm form the Bible every day.

The daily buildup in this positive way is meaningful to me.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet says it all clearly:  “The readiness is all.”  Preparation for a real celebration expands the opportunity to live fully the meaning of the Big Day.


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