The art of holiday celebrations

My office window looks out over the neighborhood park. I have logged hundreds of miles in laps around that park over the past 20 years, and yet, there is something magical about walking through it during the first snow of the season.

I savor the quiet stillness created by the gently drifting flakes. No other form of precipitation creates this effect. Only snow. My senses are heightened. Sounds are crisper. I hear the flakes falling on the dry, frozen leaves. Images are clearer. Every tree and branch, the detail of every house, is outlined. Edges are softened. I can actually smell and taste the cold. As part of the landscape in nature’s painting, I am merely a figure on the master artist’s vast canvas.

I have a habit of viewing everything in terms of relationships and the arts. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard of my professional training in the former and my passion for the latter. Or it may be because it is through relationships and the arts that we communicate who we are, what we believe, what we value, what we need, want, desire, and who we want to become. Then again, it might be the result of my deep conviction that both relationships and the arts are essential to our survival.

As we approach the celebrations taking place over the next couple of months, with all of the associated sights, sounds, scents, flavors, and feelings, I find myself wondering, what would the holidays be without the arts? Would there even be holidays without the arts?

Holidays are an outgrowth of our beliefs, but how would we express and perpetuate those beliefs without the arts? Would it be possible without the oral tradition of storytelling or the written word? Can you even imagine celebrating without music? How would we know that something special is happening without visual symbols and cues? What about the dances, the dramas, the preparation and presentation of food? I cannot think of a single aspect of the holidays that is not steeped in the arts.

Through the arts, we convey what is being celebrated and why. The arts provide an outward expression of our beliefs and values. It is through our interactions, in relationship to one another, that these outward expressions gain meaning and significance.

The arts allow us to define and perpetuate our identity. Sue Monk Kidd wrote that, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” The arts communicate our stories through literature, music, dance, theatre, culinary, and visual art. They are integral to our holiday celebrations.

Consider what the holiday you celebrate means to you. Recall your earliest memories of this holiday. What traditions did your family practice? What was their significance? How did you know? What feelings were inspired by the celebration? What beliefs were preserved? How do those beliefs impact you daily? How did participating in this holiday affect the person you have become?

Explore how the arts allow you to express the meaning of this holiday. Look around your home. What symbols are displayed? What stories are told? What books or passages are read? Will you listen to music composed for this holiday? Will you attend dance or dramatic performances that are specific to this holiday? Are there special dishes that will be prepared? How would your experience of this holiday change without these artistic elements?

Determine whether or not you are effectively communicating the meaning through your celebration. Do your children know what you are celebrating and why?

Ask them. If they are unsure or confused, explain the significance of this holiday. Identify the symbols and what they represent. Clarify the beliefs underlying your celebration. Children of all ages enjoy the telling, and over the years, will come to understand more with each retelling. Be aware of how the arts help make this holiday come to life for your children.

We are in the midst of a season intended to inspire us to reaffirm our beliefs, become improved versions of our former selves, honor and strengthen our significant relationships, and dedicate ourselves to making a meaningful contribution in whatever corner of the world we reside. Each of us is endowed with the power to do these things. But we have to recognize and choose to do so. Like Scrooge, we are challenged to wake up and discover that humankind is our business.

Every day we have chances to make real, beneficial, lasting differences in the lives of others in both discreet and obvious ways. But first, we have to notice. We have to be paying attention. Through the arts and in our relationships, we are challenged to use all of our senses to fully appreciate and participate in life.

We must:

• Look closely

• Smell intently

• Taste discerningly

• Listen carefully

• Feel deeply

So that we can:

• Think clearly

• Speak thoughtfully

• Act wisely

• Touch gently

• Love graciously

• Live purposefully

Whatever holiday you observe, may love, peace, and joy be at the center of your celebration and last throughout the coming year.

Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman is a resident of Lexington, Kentucky. She has degrees in Child Development, Family Studies, and Marriage and Family Therapy. Waterbury-Tieman has been married for 29 years and has two sons, ages 24 and 14. She spent 15 years in various agencies and clinics as a family therapist and parent educator and has written extensively on the topic of parenting. After six years as Arts Facilitator for the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, she chose to return to her favorite place of employment – home. To contact her, please e-mail parent4lif[email protected]oo.com.

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