The word “holidays” comes from the Old English haligdæg or “Holy Days.” In olden times, this dark time of year was the time to gather around the hearth, to find light and love within our hearts and homes. Now, our commercialized holiday season is over-stuffed with consumption and stress.
Let’s take the holidays back, you and I. Let’s be deliberate about our choices. Let’s honor the holidays as our own Holy Days this year. And let’s start by creating sanctuary in our homes, so that each time we return home, we’ll feel the power and resonance of what we hold sacred.
Creating Sanctuary Connects our Everyday World with the Divine
In any temple or cathedral that earns the title of “sanctuary,” we experience being deeply connected to—and nourished by—both the immanent physical world of nature and by the transcendent expansiveness of the divine. Inside a sanctuary, we are both grounded in physical reality while, at the same time, encouraged to lift our attention into the realm of sublime possibility, of new paradigms, ideas and beliefs.
Start by Emptying the Space
We can’t create sanctuary in a busy, cluttered space. So, I always start my holiday decorating by removing most of the decorative items from each room, to create the space for my seasonal altars. I pack those items away for the season, in the same bins I use to store holiday decorations.
Bring in Nature
Do you feel deeply nourished by the natural world at this time of year? You can increase your connection by bringing real bits of nature indoors. Before you decorate for the holiday, go for a walk in your neighborhood and collect what calls to you: pinecones, fir boughs, berries.
Eighteen years ago, my youngest and I collected some vines as we hiked through the woods in early December; we spray painted them gold and they’ve been part of our holiday altar ever since. As I unpack them, I still remember her 4-year old exuberance as we gathered those vines.
As you integrate gifts of nature from your neighborhood into your Holy Day decor, you—and your home—will feel more connected to the land you live on.
Bring in the Divine
As you unpack your holiday decorations, really ask yourself: How do these items connect my attention to the Divine?
- Do your holiday lights bring your attention to the Light of Love?
- Do your ornaments bring joyful memories to mind?
- Does each holiday decoration hold uplifting meaning?
As You Decorate, Create Altars
An altar is any item or group of items that alters, or uplifts, your mood or energy level. In a church or temple, an altar lifts your attention to the divine. In your home, an altar creates the same kind of portal for you attention. But only if you place the items with intention.
So, I decorate mindfully, using my intention to weave the sacred into each of my altars.
- As I string lights on the tree and around the house, I intend to strengthen the light of love within my heart.
- As I set up the nativity, I invoke into my own heart the protectiveness of Joseph, the love of Mary, the innocence of her newborn babe, the reverence of the shepherds and the generosity of the wise men.
- As I place the Santa, I remember my answer when my young children asked me if Santa was real: “Santa is as real as your parents!” And… I remember their excitement when they were finally old enough to stay up on Christmas Eve and stuff the stockings and play Santa. I choose to feel that kind of joy in my gift-giving!
- This year, as I find a place for the Nutcracker that belonged to my Dad and stepmother (which came to us after her passing this year), I’ll take a moment to be grateful for all the many gifts they gave me.
Edit Your Collection
Each holiday season, if I find ornaments that no longer hold meaning for any of us, I donate or regift them. As our children became adults with homes of their own, each one got to claim a favorite holiday decoration to start their own collection, which has also helped to edit our decorations.
Write Your Intention for the Holy Days
When we write our intentions, we are committing to them. So, write down a few words that describe how you prefer to experience this holiday season. Then, place your intention on one of your Holy Day altars, one you will see every day.
I encourage you to use your favorite visual decoration on this altar, a decoration that you really love. This visual image needs to give you the body-sense of enjoying the kind of holiday you prefer. It could be the menorah, the nativity, a photo of your last family Christmas.
Know that your intention doesn’t have to show; you may not want it to be on display, to be read by others. It can be rolled up in a scroll and tied with a ribbon, or folded and placed under or inside another item on the altar. This year, I rolled my intention into a candle I formed from sheets of sweet-smelling beeswax, which I’ll light for a few moments each evening.
As you place your intention on the altar, take a moment to hold your intention in prayer. Allow yourself to FEEL the body-sense of creating the experience you intend. Give thanks to your seen and unseen spiritual support team, for working with you to create a restorative, uplifting holiday season.
Then, each time you pass the altar which holds you intention, notice it, even if just for a second. If your intention is hidden, allow the visual item on the altar to act as a lightening rod, directing your attention to your intention.
Experiencing Sanctuary Takes Time
It doesn’t take much more time to create sanctuary in your home as you decorate for your Holy Days than it would if you were just throwing up your holiday decorations without mindfulness. Doing it mindfully takes just a few minutes more, perhaps.
But allowing yourself to EXPERIENCE sanctuary does take time. Little bits of time, strung together like pearls on a string.
Kind of like creating a sustainable system in your home office or kitchen takes more than just a space to put stuff on or in. For a system to be sustainable, you need more than a shelf or drawer, a bin or basket. A sustainable system also requires time. You can’t just declutter and organize and have a sustainable system. You have to devote a small amount of time, on a regular basis, to maintain it.
Happily, the BEST sustainable systems take the LEAST amount of time and space!
The same is true of creating sanctuary in your home. You don’t need to spend massive amounts of time. Just minutes a day spent admiring the twinkling tree, or inhaling the aroma of the pine wreath on the door, or sipping cocoa near the crackling fire as you enjoy the altar you created for the mantle… these moments are your pearls, your sacred moments that will make Holy Days out of the holidays.
May it be so for you and me, and all of us around the world, this year.