Celebrating in the Pandemic
National Geographic Magazine India|December 2020
WE’RE MISSING HOLIDAY CLOSENESS JUST WHEN WE NEED IT MOST. BUT EVEN GRIM, UNCERTAIN TIMES HOLD SPARKS OF LOVE AND LIGHT.
ANNE LAMOTT
SOMETIMES WE LET GO of things, sometimes things are taken away, and sometimes things break, such as lives, hearts, entire ways of life. Doesn’t our world feel broken in the time of coviD-19, maybe especially when holy days arrive?

If we are wise, we avoid large gatherings, dinner indoors with family and old friends, services at our mosques, temples, churches—so we lose the joyful and profound rituals and gatherings at this time of devastation when we need them most. but does this mean we lose the nurture, bonding, and sacred silliness that ceremonies provide?

Maybe we can be fully immersed in the holy even as we keep ourselves and our beloveds safe. Maybe broken isn’t the end of the world. Maybe broken is a new beginning, a portal.

Let’s start with what we mean by “holy.”

The word derives from whole, uninjured, healthy, complete. i am not always feeling whole these days. Rather, i am often rattled, sad, mad, existentially tired, and crunchy. i would love a nice burning bush about now—but the holy doesn’t come only from the divine, as i understand it. it’s woven through life.

The holy is not a spectacle, the rockettes on stage at the taj Mahal backed by the Mormon tabernacle choir. it is more often felt in small graces and blessings, although you do have to be paying attention to catch the momentousness of the moment. that’s the rub. it is around us, above us, below us, and inside us all the time. it’s here, but often we’re not.

Maybe our definition of holy and whole have to change. the early morning is holy. Holy is the warmth of the grocer or grandchild or a bowl of homegrown tomatoes from the neighbor who once reported you on Nextdoor. I’m whole, -ish, older, slower, with a few dings.

Holy are the candles of the menorah or carolers, or a community bonfire. these days are about the coming of the light—warmth, illumination, life anew. the triumph of light over darkness, as in the Persian tradition of yalda: gathering with loved ones by candlelight and firelight, reading poetry and telling stories—and the inevitable sacrament of eating special foods—to celebrate the longest night of the year. it’s called “the night of birth.” We are there now. it’s beautiful, and hard, as life so often is. suffering is part of the beauty of the human drama. (i hate that.)

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