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Members of the UU Fellowship of Topeka, Kansas, celebrated Chalica in 2009.

Celebrating the winter holidays

By Michelle Richards

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Since our overtly materialistic culture not only emphasizes consumerism but also offers unrealistic expectations of ourselves and our families during the winter holidays through commercials, TV specials, and movies, many families can feel acute disappointment and anxiety. The holidays often intensify family pressures—and they can be even more difficult for Unitarian Universalist families if theological issues conflict with family traditions or needs.

If you are facing some of these issues, it may help to take a step back and focus on positive aspects of the winter holidays for yourself and your family. This may mean recreating events from your childhood or inventing new traditions that are more meaningful—or a combination of both. Connecting with other Unitarian Universalist parents in your congregation, your local community, or through social networking sites or email lists (there is a meaningful conversation going on about this right now as part of the UU-parenting email list) can also help you determine what is important for you during this holiday season.

Unitarian Universalist parents have begun to rethink the ideas behind the winter holidays to make them particularly meaningful for their families. Unitarian Universalist Christian families can enjoy singing carols, decorating the Christmas tree, and baking cookies, but they may also have made a conscious choice to simplify gift giving and deliberately shift the emphasis of the holiday away from consumerism. Unitarian Universalist families that don’t consider themselves theologically Christian or Jewish may still celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah and even tell the traditional stories as a celebration of rebirth and renewal or to reinforce the value of giving to others.

Other Unitarian Universalist families have made the decision to embrace the Winter Solstice as their primary winter tradition, whether or not they are Pagan, by focusing upon how the darkness of the winter months is a natural progression of the year. This celebration is particularly meaningful to my family. On the Solstice, we forgo all electricity (except for heating, which we turn down), a powerful reminder of how our Northern European ancestors experienced the dark winter months and how the Earth still provides so many of our resources. We do share gifts as part of this tradition, but even more importantly, we share wishes for one another in a powerful candle lighting ceremony that grows more meaningful every year.

In recent years, the celebration of Chalica, a uniquely Unitarian Universalist winter holiday, has been gaining in popularity with families all across the country. Chalica runs for seven days, usually from the first Monday in December through the following Sunday. Each day represents a different Unitarian Universalist Principle; each evening a chalice is lit by families in their homes to celebrate their UU identity and heritage. Gifts may be exchanged as part of celebrating Chalica, but they are usually handmade and could even be a verbal offering, a written promise, or an act of service tied to the theme of the Seven Principles. For example, the family chalice is lit for “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations” on the second day, and gifts might be given to promote these ideals: spending time in service at a soup kitchen, donating new clothes or toys to local organizations that work to reduce poverty, or intentionally offering kindness to others.

Unlike other winter holidays, celebrating Chalica or some variation of it offers a Unitarian Universalist family the opportunity to celebrate their unique faith in a holiday that highlights and celebrates our living tradition. With its specific emphasis upon the Principles, Chalica can serve as a learning tool for children who are eager to learn what makes their religion unique from others and encourage a rich sense of Unitarian Universalist identity. Likewise, an emphasis upon handmade presents and acts of service can provide comfort to those parents who are uneasy about the materialism inherent in many of the modern holiday celebrations. This can only serve to further emphasize our deeply held personal values of generosity, gratitude, and moderation.

Photograph above Courtesy Colin MacMillan/Nathan Ham Photography

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