Whether traditional rituals provide you with the comfort of familiarity or turn you away with their formality, here are seven ways for your soul to celebrate.
1. Celebrate the birthdays of various spiritual figures.
If you want your children to get a sense of the oneness of religions, as well as the religious underpinnings of Christmas amid the commercial hoopla, celebrate the birthdays of several spiritual teachers throughout the year. That way, when Christmas comes, it will be another spiritual birthday.
2. Celebrate the solstice.
The winter solstice is the planet's own holiday; it applies to all people and all life. You might spend the day preparing for winter in both realistic and ritualistic ways: stocking mason jars with grains and beans, laying an extra quilt at the foot of every bed, stocking up on firewood. An embrace beneath the mistletoe and the lighting of a Yule log are traditional solstice rituals. The pagans of pre-Christian Europe marked this seasonal shift by singing and dancing through the night until their reveling welcomed the sun. You might let your children stay awake—or try to—through this longest night of the year.
See alsoYoga Diary: Solstice Tree
3. Observe Children's Day.
The Shambhala (Tibetan Buddhist) community observes Children's Day on the winter solstice to celebrate the "royalty" inherent in every child. Symbolic figures of a king and queen are the focal points of the three-tier shrine that families construct for the holiday. Joining the dolls that become Royal Highnesses are "sense offerings" of a cloth ribbon (touch), fruits or sweets (taste), saffron water (smell), a conch or musical instrument (sound), and a small mirror (sight). Animal figures, handmade decorations, and special "treasures"—music boxes, streamers, flags—become a part of this symbolic replica of Heaven and Earth.
The night prior to the solstice, children put out food offerings and awaken to find baskets of gifts for all members of the family. On the day itself, children are treated like royalty and taken somewhere special. For more information, visit the Web site shambhala.org or contact your local Shambhala center—nonmembers are welcome to join in their Children's Day celebrations.
4. Take advantage of opportunities to share.
Host a potluck for friends and acquaintances who don't spend the holiday with family. (There are more of these people than you might think: We had 18 around our table last year.) Prepare a vegetarian feast for the local homeless shelter. Help serve Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army, or deliver meals to the homebound. Decorate a tree outside with treats for the birds (and follow up through the winter). And spread the word about the hazards that traditional holiday plants—poinsettia, holly, mistletoe—present. These plants are toxic to cats and should be kept far away from curious kitties.
5. Welcome the new year.
Most of the time New Year's gets lost after the hubbub that precedes it. Nondrinkers prefer to stay in, stay safe, and go to bed early. Still, the tradition of making New Year's Resolutions is a worthy one. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck is a time-honored practice in the American South. And sending New Year's cards, or writing a real letter (on paper!) to friends and family who sent you holiday cards, is a lovely way to keep in touch when people actually have time to sit down and read what you've written.
6. Get cultured.
There is a wealth of artistic offerings reserved for this time of year. Make an annual ritual of seeing The Nutcracker ballet; a live production of A Christmas Carole; It's a Wonderful Life on the big screen at a vintage movie house; or a stirring choral rendering of Handel's Messiah. And expand your cultural literacy by studying—or better yet, celebrating—a potpourri of the season's festivals, including Hanukkah, with its glowing candles and nightly gift exchange, and Kwaanza, the seven-day celebration of African-American culture which culminates in a soul food feast.
Get away to a place of silence and stillness. This is a perfect time of year to spend a day or a week at an ashram or a monastery. If a geographic getaway is not possible this year, get away to a place of serenity within yourself as often as you can. You'll not only be calming yourself, you'll be contributing calm and peacefulness to the larger society at a time when those qualities are in shortest supply.